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Spring | Letter A Day

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A few years ago I wrote a “Letter a Day in May” to followers and readers of the blog.  It led me to some wonderful penpals like Claire (@ Word by Word) and Muzette, who I still write to this day and she knows some of the most important thoughts in my head.  I love a good penpal and I love good gossip (the good kind as in, “tell me a good thing.”  If you want to participate in “Spring Letter A Day” starting March 1st and until I run out of people to write, fill out this simple Google Form.

In fifth grade, I was given a penpal that lived in another country.  My mother kept those crayon-written letters.  The lines were tipped downwards and the letters got bigger and then smaller like they appeared under a microscope, but I thought it was magic that I could communicate with someone so far away.  I didn’t know what longitude and latitude were but I could feel miles on the drives back and forth to Florida.  This was my first experience with a penpal.  Since, I’ve written my best friend Seth for all the years he lived in South Korea (we even have a symbol that we both own to commemorate those funky posts).  My dear, Sarah, who moved to New Zealand after her whirlwind marriage, wrote me back and forth for ages.  Bri, who follows this blog, and has one of her own, has written me from Nevada for most of last year.

So, if you think handwritten is a thing of the past, or you just wish something other than bills came out of your mailbox, sign on up.  I can’t wait to write you.

Again, Google Form here.

I look forward to single-handedly keeping the US Post Office open. (Because come on, those uniform britches have to stay on the waists of middle-aged men and out of museums for things of the past).

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Notable Quotables | From the Moleskine

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 10.22.54 AMMy brain, lately, has been almost too fried to read.  I can’t exactly follow a plot without getting distracted by something else in the room.  I’ve become an impatient reader.  In this world where everything is so instant, I find myself unwound by a book that takes time, and polite pleading.  However, I’m also reading the most perfect book to remind me of the purpose of the wait.  Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera is too beautiful.  It reminds me how hard it will be to fashion my own book after pages like this have been written.  Today, I’m going to share a quote that I think anyone who reads this blog can respect.  Later this week, my quote will devastate you.  This is both a warning and an introduction.

In this quote, the narrator has traveled to America from Sri Lanka (due to the beginning of war on the Tamil people) and she has discovered libraries.

“If La’s particular obsession was the precise moment as which blue becomes green, mine had to do with books, words, paragraphs, and the ways they fit together on a page, nestled next to each other, waiting like time bombs.  The greatest thing about America to me was the constant availability of books.  The first time I walked into an American library, bells rang and cherubs sang about my head.

I wandered about in rapture, borrowed books by the armload, and became known to the librarians.  I liked to inhabit books, devour them.  Reading seemed so similar to eating, to consumption.  I didn’t like to eat now unless there was a book open by my plate.  A habit Amma hated and shouted at me often over.  If I could get away with it, I would have written in the margins of my favorite books, drawn diagrams, arrow, and small pictorial commentaries in direct conversation or argument with the writer.  Instead, I read in the bathtub, at the dinner table, on the bus, leaving a trail of books behind me.  Amma and Thatha revered books.  They read carefully without bending pages or breaking spines, bent to kiss them if they fell on the floor.  There were aghast at what they saw as my irreverence, and I in turn could never understand the politeness with which they read” (Munaweera, 116).

Quote from Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

Quote from Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

The moment that got me in this quote was “words…waiting like time bombs.”  I think that little phrase gets at the reason why there are so many readers, and so many readers throughout time.  The words are like a field of improvised explosive devices.  But not the kind that have murdered those who serve, but the kind that open small holes so that as Leonard Cohen so famously said, light can get in.  While I read, I’m allowed into this alternate world that I could never know otherwise.  Someone is giving me the opportunity to travel, to experience, to empathize, to add significance to things I didn’t know previous.  I love this about the world of words, the vastness of it, and the small garden plots, barren lands, and topped mountains that rise (or don’t) from this world.

Like the narrator, I am not a polite reader.  I fold pages of library books with wet thumbs.  I leave crumbs in the cracks from granola bars.  I can’t erase the coffee splotches that I spilled while I read with action.  I leave them in dusty places in my apartment and move them when I move.  The words might get wet, the pages might crease, the margins might be filled with doodles or more words.  Words on words. I try to teach my students the art of annotation and the messiness in conversation.  Every human conversation is messy, and so is every conversation made in the margins of someone else’s words.

The mess is where the light is.

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Notable Quotables from The Moleskine

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 12.06.30 PMI finished My Name is Lucy Barton in a plane ride, however, I never got to share the brilliant little trinkets found in this one.

“When my great-uncle died, we moved into the house and we had hot water and a flush toilet, though in the winter the house was very cold.  Always, I have hated being cold.  There are elements that determine paths taken, and we can seldom find them or point to them accurately, but I have sometimes thought how I would stay late at school, where it was warm, just to be warm.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 12.08.23 PMThis quote spoke to me because as a teacher, I’m constantly trying to evaluate the motives of my students.  Why would that kid answer a phone call from work in the middle of class? Why does this child where pajama bottoms every single day? How is it that seventy-five percent of my new students this semester have moved more than three times in their life? It’s a part of worrying, I guess.  This quote from Lucy Barton means a lot to me because it’s such a simple reason.  She didn’t like being cold, so she stayed late at school and was able to get the tutoring or study time she needed to be successful in high school.  What a tiny thing that I keep for granted, that my house has heat and I can turn it on with a switch.

“Still, I loved him.  He asked what we ate when I was growing up.  I did not say, “Mostly molasses on bread.” I did say, “We had baked beans a lot.” And he said, “What did you do after that, all hang around and fart?” Then I understood I would never marry him.  It’s funny how one thing can make you realize something like that.  One can be ready to give up the children one always wanted, one can be ready to withstand remarks about one’s past, or one’s clothes, but then — a tiny remark and the soul deflates and says: Oh.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 12.09.54 PMThis. is. dating.  I had so many thoughts when I read this quote back again just now.  The thought that my mother, before dating my father, dated a man who was so selfish that he didn’t buy her Christmas presents, but refused to celebrate with her so she wouldn’t know.  He did however, buy himself everything he wanted, to the point where he was a bit of a hoarder.  When my ex-boyfriend decided to buy a video game, while he was jobless, and let his mother pay for my Christmas present, I realized how much I had repeated my own mother’s past in a new way.  This quote says all of that.  Those Oh, moments.  I think it’s safe to say that those tiny moments also inflate a relationship.  My boyfriend, who homemade me a Happy Birthday banner by cutting and stringing and coloring.  This man inflates the soul, he is an Oh moment with an exclamation point.

I highlighted and scribbled so many more quotes into my notebook, but maybe I’ll save those for another time when I’m reading a book that has very little beauty and I have to question why I’m reading it.

 

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Notable Quotables | From the Moleskine

I’m still reading Half of a Yellow Sun because I’ve been tacking off to-do lists instead of actually reading.  I plan on finishing it today, or AT MAX tomorrow.  However, it’s so beautiful, that it’s just dragging me down in its pretty.  Thanks, Narcissuses, let me fall into the mirror, anytime.

We Were on a break! Gif @ Creative Commons

At one point, the main couple in the book has a relationship break.  Now, this isn’t like the break in F.R.I.E.N.D.S, “WE WERE ON A BREAK,” it’s a break driven by trauma and the effects of trauma on the human spirit, particularly in a love relationship.  On the break, Olanna gets a lot of advice from the women around her, and I love every bit of their advice.  So, today’s quotes come from wise women.  May every woman have one and may every woman be one – eventually or all at once, however wisdom comes, in clumps or trinkets, take it and run.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 5.20.46 PMFrom her Aunt: “You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man.  Do you hear me? Aunty Ifeka said, ‘You’re life belongs to you and you alone.”

Olanna to her neighbor’s question on why she loves Odenigbo: “I don’t think love has a reason,’ Olanna said.  ‘Sure it does.’ ‘I think love comes first and then the reasons follow.  When I am with him, I feel I don’t need anything else.”

Olanna’s Neighbor: “Don’t think of it as forgiving him.  See it as allowing yourself to be happy.  What will you do with the misery you have chosen? Will you eat misery?”

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 5.20.53 PMOlanna: “…and she felt as if she had been gumming back the pieces of broken chinaware only to have them shatter all over again; the pain was not in the second shattering but in the realization that trying to put them back together had been of no consequence from the beginning.”

Olanna’s Neighbor: “Look at you.  You’re the kindest person I know.  Look how beautiful you are.  Why do you need so much outside of yourself?  Why isn’t what you are enough? You’re so damned weak.”

Olanna: “…and sat thinking about how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off.”

Army Advertisement for Women (Creative Commons)

I think so much of this advice could be given to any woman at any point in her life.  Except maybe for the woman who wrote Lean In, because she’s snap, snap, snapping her womanhood, honey.  The best part of this advice is that it’s woman to woman, and most of these woman are of the same age group.  It’s not a mother to a daughter, although my mother has often given me this advice, or a mentor to a mentee, it’s true peer advice.  I think sometimes if women could just take advice from one another, the world would be run by women, and women who aren’t emotionally drained, damaged, dragged down, or devastated.

We Should All Be Feminists

Women to women, we can make each other strong – an army of one, if you will. That’s probably also why Adiche won The Orange Prize for this book in 2007.  The Orange Prize is a prize given to a women who writes in English, and her first book Purple Hibiscus was also shortlisted for the award.  I plan to read this book as well this year because I think Adichie is a premier writer of this generation.  Honestly, if you haven’t gotten enough empowerment from this post, just watch her Ted Talk: “We Should All Be Feminists” or buy the book that was printed shortly afterwards.  I reviewed this book in 2014 here.

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Notable Quotables from the Moleskine

I keep a bulletjournal, that’s kind of like a MASH-UP of my whole life.  I do daily to-do lists which are less overwhelming than they sound.  I write my favorite quotes from the books I’m reading, grocery lists, recipes I find on the interwebs for crockpot goodness, goal lists and project maps.  Basically, just everything.

Something I’ve done since high school is keep a collection of quotes from the things that I’ve read. In high school, most of them wound up taped to my vanity mirror, but a lot of them were hidden on little scraps of paper from my purse (mostly receipts). Some small fragments I tuck into my wallet as a reminder.  I got one tattooed on my shoulder when I just finished college.  A few I write on envelopes to my lovely pen pals, but almost all of them end up in a journal, whichever one is dominant that day.  I used to have a tiny little notebook that I hid in a sock drawer for quotes, but then I found that I needed to carry them around on my day to day missions.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is a long story just to say that I find so much power in the written word that I have to copy it down and carry it around.  Some girls carry lipstick, I carry words.  Some girls collect shoes, I collect letters put together like a math equation until they’re meaningful.  So, in an effort to blog more than book reviews, I want to share a quote every week from whatever I’m reading and kind of explain it’s meaning to me and how I think it can influence the society that I live in.

Currently, I’m reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I’m not quite sure how to summarize where I am, but there are four voices (organized by chapter) and the one that is talking/thinking in this chapter is Olanna who dates Odenigbo.  Olanna is from a wealthy family in Nigeria and Odenigbo is a college professor in Africa that very much wants to support Nigerian values, but also bring Nigeria to a culturally aware world that is not dependent on British expectations and British rules.  In this part, Odenigbo’s mother comes to visit and basically gives Olanna the “what for,” and tells her that she’s no good for her son and needs to go away.

Odenigbo: “Nkem, my mother’s entire life is in Abba.  Do you know what a small bush visage that is? Of course she will feel threatened by an educated woman living with her son. Of course you have to be a with.  That is the only way she can understand it.  The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.13.12 PMI think this quote is beyond powerful.  It blends the idea of gender roles and gender expectations with class roles and class expectations with cultural roles and cultural expectations.  It’s a big hodgepodge of influence.  In a world where women are still supposed to be the virtuous part of a working relationship, and certain religions look down on others for the “looseness” of their women, this quote outlines a generational gap as well as a cultural gap in a time of growth on this continent.  In some countries women aren’t even allowed to leave the house without a man and must have men testify in court on their side in order to defend a rape allegation, this quote shows the bias of a mother when she’s forced to reconcile with a woman who breaks the expectations. Olanna is living with her lover without the “benefit of clergy” (as my Catholic confirmation sponsor would call it).

However, this isn’t even the most commanding part of the quote.  Odenigbo manages to wrap up my feelings on poverty, and colonialism, and culture clashing, and third world vs. first world in one quick sentence.  How can people from one culture waltz in and dominate another without giving the initial culture the resources and advantages to live in this new world.  First off, what does it mean to be “civilized?” And who’s right is it to decide that? Then, when one group of people is “civilized” a la Things Fall Apart, there’s no real way to do this without playing dirty.  If someone walked up to me tomorrow and told me my whole life was a sham and I need to live a different way, I would laugh in their face and walk in my mall jeans home.

Nonetheless, colonialism has happened in our world and once it has happened, what is the role of the “conquerer” to help the “conquered” deal with the new values, new rules, new expectations.  In poverty training at my old teaching county we were taught that all department stores are marketed and made-for middle class people.  What must these stores feel like to those that are loudly rich, or those that are severely poor? How can we make a world work where everyone feels at home navigating the waves and the issues of that world, where everyone is allowed to troubleshoot?  How do we even teach this? I’m constantly asking myself this question as a teacher and I’m constantly mulling it over in my head as a human.  That’s why I find the power of these words so successful.

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And as a teacher, here are some essential questions I find relevant to this topic:

  1. How do individuals reconcile competing belief systems within a given society (e.g., moral beliefs conflicting with legal codes)?
  2. What are the politics and consequences of war, and how do these vary based on an individual or cultural perspective?
  3. How does literature reveal the values of a given culture or time period?
  4. What does it mean to be an insider or an outsider?
  5. How do decisions, actions, and consequences vary depending on the different perspectives of the people involved?
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Year in Review & #ReadingBingo for 2016

This is my last post of 2015 and it feels really odd.  It’s almost a new year and with that come some reading resolutions.  See below! Also, see if you want to participate in #readingbingo this year with me.  If you do, comment below and hashtag #readingbingo on your Instagram and Twitter.  Can’t wait to read with you guys this year.

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Reading Resolutions

Here is the “Reading Bingo” I plan on doing as one of my Reading Resolutions. Feel free to share on your blog, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, just please give me credit.

Bingo

Story Anthologies That Don’t Suck | O. Henry Prize Stories 2014

I have to confess that I don’t subscribe to any literary magazines.

I’m a hypocritical book mongrel.

I rally for the short story form, even flash fiction if it’s done right, but then I don’t actually support the magazines that provide and establish authors that try to keep that form alive.  My only way of giving back is to read as many anthologies as I possibly can, particularly contemporary fiction anthologies.  I also try not to stick to the ones that Barnes and Noble carries because they never actually choose any weird ones.

Usually, when you read an anthology it’s because you either A. like the genre, B. you are starting your own small marathon of writing flash fiction to the early morning, or C. you want to know what the “best of” contains for that particular year, or in this case, century.  (Yes, be alarmed, someone actually believed they could put together a fair and righteous anthology of fiction for the CENTURY).  I would turn that book over in bookstores, hoping no one would buy it.

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014

Anyway, also per usual when reading an anthology, not all of the stories are good.  There are few that really spark and then only because one particular line changed how you viewed the world.  Then you read everything by that author hoping to get that sick feeling again (like a woman in a bad relationship) and it’s all for naught. Those feelings come quickly, and spaz out before we can even realize what’s happened.

Westinghouse Time Capsule @ Wikipedia Commons

This is NOT the case for The O’Henry Prize Stories of 2014.  There were only two stories that I didn’t feel were up to par and the rest were brilliant.  I found myself unable to physically write down (due to hand cramping) all of the quotes that I highlighted.  And the stories are new and fresh.  They don’t center around one genre, or one betrayal from the world. They are like a little capsule that we can fling into space and hope that some extraterrestrial with a sense of compassion finds to explain this world of love gusts and expectations that don’t meet fantasies.

Or we can bury it, for the future. I’d be willing for this book to be my message to the next world along with a long composition of why they should try to recreate the dinosaur, read Emily Dickinson, and take up Twitter.

  • The collection begins with mounting tension when two boys play with a gun.  One without a mother, and one who holds secrets tighter than he can hold a fist.  I’m not sure now which is which because they both blend together as children, and only when they become adults do they realize their differences (as most of us do with our childhood friends).  My favorite thing about it is that it repeats itself multiple times, through multiple ages of childhood and adulthood.  There is a “cathedral of silence” during every year of this man-boy’s life.  He faces this silence like an open wound and it leaves him questioning who he was, and who he is now.

“Later when he tells the story to people they won’t understand.  Why didn’t he run away? His friend had  a loaded gun.  He will be repeatedly amazed at how poorly everyone remembers their childhoods, how they project their adult selves back into those bleached-out photographs, those sandals, those tiny chairs.  As if choosing, as if deciding, as if saying no were skills like tying your shoelaces or riding a bike.  Things happen to you.  If you were lucky, you got an education and weren’t abused by the man who ran the fife-a-side.  If you were very lucky you finally ended up in a place where you could say, I’m going to study accountancy … I’d like to live in a countryside … I want o spend the rest of my life with you” (“The Gun,” Mark Haddon, Granta)

  • The next story, “Talk” by Stephon Dixon (The American Reader) plays with the idea of point-of-view in a story, the inner voice that we all communicate with after we stop trying to talk to our cats for most of a lonely day. It also plays with growing old when that inner voice might be the only person that we talk to in a day’s time.  Even when you think of talking to someone, that inner voice can hold you back, be it the voice a friend or a foe.
  • Art by Sejnow @ Deviant Art (Creative Commons)

    “Valentine” by Tessa Hadley (The New Yorker) just made me never want to have a daughter.  I’m not too far away to remember what I put up with from boys in high school, but I am too far away to meet that girl and shake hands like an acquaintance.  The girl in this story doesn’t “do bad all by herself,” but “does bad” for the boy with all the wrong angles.  He’s a writer, but he’s a wanderer.  He’s a bit grunge, but he’s haughty in philosophy.  It really just tells the story of the girl before the boy, during the boy, and then plays with the idea that you can go back to the girl who was the “before” version of yourself. (Hint: You can’t).

“There was a rare blend in him of earnestness and recklessness.  And he seemed to know instinctively what to read, where to go, what music to listen to.  He was easily bored, and indifferent to anything he didn’t like” (Tessa Hadley).

  • “Petur” by Olivia Clare (Ecotone) broke my heart more than a little.  It’s a mother and son story, the son is an adult on a vacation with his mother when a volcano goes off in Poland and they are forced to live in ash.  The ash becomes symbolic for their relationship and his mother’s scattered mind as she walks through the (not wreckage) but fall, and he watches her own odd unfurling.

Sparks Royalty Free Sparks Images (Creative Commons)

“Nights after her afternoon walks, she’d sit with a field guide.  I have a bird heart, she’d say, your mother, the bird.  Precise knowledge of a fjall’s origins, or of the call each bird made, was the closest she felt she had, she said, to wisdom, because lang, because details, were important.  They were solid and finite and felt infinite” (Olivia Clare).

  • Abuse. Roadtrips. Racism. Lingering unresolved, but unpracticed feelings. Old towns. Father’s who still protected their daughters from men who drank too much and leaned too crooked over stoves thinking. Trees with names. Tradition.

“You remember your mother saying you had to learn to use the Lexicon because words were both tools and weapons and the difference between the right one and the almost-right one was like lightning and a lightning bug, and when you said the lectern was higher than you could reach she showed you the step stool hidden underneath” (“You Remember the Pin Mill,” David Bradley, Narrative).

  • “Nemecia” by Kirsten Valdez Quade will stay with me the same way the movie, “Black Swan” stays with me.  They both have similar disturbing skin scenes.  Nemecia is an almost older sister to Maria, but in the end, they become neither sister nor friend.  It’s really the story of how grief creates competition in us.

Black Swan by It’s Too Dark @ Deviant Art (Creative Commons)

“Nemecia had an air of tragedy about her, which she cultivated. She blackened her eyes with a kohl pencil” (Narrative).

  • Most disturbing story in the collection is easily “Trust” by Dylan Landis (Tin House).  I was so uncomfortable with this story.  It felt a little bit like someone giving you a creative writing prompt like “If your house burned down, what would you take.” And immediately you start to live through your house burning down, and how the flames flicker, but they don’t flicker and you realize you’ve never experienced a fire and they probably gust like a parachute.  It’s just like that except it’s a teenage robbery and I just wanted it to end (in a good way…in a good writing way).  It’s also like every Law & Order episode that you live in fear of, except this is MID-DAY and you start to realize that this could happen at anytime of day, not just when you’re sleeping (which is terrifying).
  • “Old Houses” by Allison Alsup (New Orleans Review) tells the old neighborhood folktale from the perspective of a barbecue.  It’s just creepy enough to not really affect you personally, but add an edge to your day that wasn’t there before.  It wasn’t as strong as the others in the collection, but it did stand tall.
  • My favorite story in the entire collection is “Fatherland” by Halina Duraj (Harvard Review). I think that’s because I thought it was just going to be another World War II story, but it was beyond me giving you any account of why it’s so good.

“I tried to stop my father’s words at my ears but they would not stick.  I knew they weren’t meant for me, but I was half my mother, my father had said so himself.  Like any good soldier, my father shot bullets through the air toward a target, but did not understand collateral damage” (Halina Duraj).

  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show @ Wikipedia Commons

    “West of the Known” by Chanelle Benz (The American Reader) was the story that has stuck with me beyond reading the last story in this collection days ago.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the quick moves between innocence and horror.  It’s (strangely) a Wild West story, but it doesn’t have any of that gun-slinging bullshit.  Well, it does, but it’s believable.  It ain’t no John Wayne rodeo if you know what I’m sayin’. At the end of the story, something bloody terrible happens and it’s truly believable.  I can feel the rope burns still.

“For in the high violence of joy, is there not often a desire to swear devotion? But what then? When is it ever brung off to the letter? When they come for our blood, we will not end, but ton on in an unworldly fever” (Chanelle Benz).

On second thought, maybe I like this story so much because it uses the word “brung” which I obsessively, and unconsciously used for the majority of seventh grade, while my father corrected me every single time.

  • Finding who you are in the grace of picked flowers, that’s “The Women” by William Trevow (The New Yorker).
  • Snake Handling @ Wikipedia Commons

    “Good Faith” is about snake handlers during a revival and how sometimes one person can’t change the ideals instilled in us since birth.  It’s a fantastic story, truly.  It might be one of my favorites from the collection because the ending is beyond powerful.  It’s the longest story in the collection and I wouldn’t mind if it was transformed into a novel. I would read these characters again and again.

  • Guy dates Asian girl.  They disembody one another. Life goes on.  A short summary of “The Right Imaginary Person” by Robert Anthony Siegal (Tin House).

“Parents and teachers agree to forget that children are in fact lunatics, and that what we call growing up is just learning to hide it better so nobody will lock us away” (Robert Anthony Siegal).

  • “Nero” by Louise Erdrich (The New Yorker) was just depressing.  I didn’t really fall for this story, but the dog got to me.
  • Golden Light @ Pixa Bay – Free Illustration (Creative Commons)

    The way light is fractured through a window is retold in the story “A Golden Light” by Rebecca Hirsch Garcia (The Threepenny Review).  It’s one of the rarely hopeful, but then hope-squashed stories in the collection.

  • “Fairness” by Chinelo Okparanta is a disturbing story that immediately made me worry about my students and the “salt and ice challenge.”  It should be read after reading a “Cosmopolitan” magazine or obsessing over people you don’t know on social media.  Or, just listen to some Beyonce and then read this story.  A girl is obsessed with lightening her skin based on the standards set by overseas societies. BLEH.
  • I hated “The Inheritors” by Kristen Iskandrian (Tin House).  I’d almost even skip it if reading this book again.

“I like being sad, which mystified her; I like it until I reach the nadir where sadness changes, as if chemically, to repulsion and self-loathing, making me wish that I was “capable” of “handling” things instead of turning away from them in disgust until my disgust disgusts me, and my anger at my inadequacy as a human being angers me, and all of that pure, easy, delectable sorrow gets squandered” (Kristen Iskandrian).

  • “Deep Eddy” by Michael Parker (Southwest Review) is the only flash piece in the collection.  It’s about virginity and dating and how both of these things make us question everything.

“She’d lost her flower with the first of a string of boys and she liked me only in the way girls like those boys who make them forget, temporarily, some pain I hoped was only temporary” (Michael Parker).

  • The next story was kind of sad because the girl character was the worst version of myself. It’s set in Venice (I think, but I’m questioning myself now), called  “Oh, Shenandoah” by Maura Stanton (New England Review). I often say to my boyfriend, “I just want to hug you so hard it hurts” when he does something incredibly annoying.  This chick is like me in that situation, but to the extreme. And the boy, just daydreamy and unable to understand any of her cues.
  • “Opa-locka” by Laura van den Berg (The Southern Review) is about a team of sisters who fulfill their childhood hopes by becoming personal investigators. At the time, they don’t understand their need for this odd job, eating gas station snack foods on roofs in a stake-out, but as the story progresses, the reader is clued into their past and why they might need these rooftop rendezvous, for each other and just for themselves.

This O.Henry Prize Collection is one of the best I’ve read in a long time.  Not only were most of the short stories meaningful and worth the read, but I can mostly remember each one even though I read some of them as long as a month ago.  This is a collection of stories that linger and each story gets redefined as you think of it again.  I HIGHLY recommend this book. HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY, Mountaintop.

 

 

 

Back To School // Make You Drool

I’ve done a lot of Bookish Gift Guides over the years, but I’m going to mix it up today.  I keep getting a million Labor Day sale emails.  I can’t resist when they ask for your email for coupons, even though a few days ago I went through and unsubscribed from everything that never gets opened.  I decided that a lot of my students were graduating and learning how to function in a cubicle/closet of a dorm.  Plus, isn’t it just fun to buy school supplies? Or home office supples? Or just organization cubbies because they usually have all kinds of funky patterns and matchy-matchy themes?

So, here it is: THE BACK TO SCHOOL // MAKE YOU DROOL Gift Guide

  • SIGNAGE

Dorm rooms, home offices, and students should be surrounded by inspiration.  Inspiration these days comes from quotes, and signs on Pinterest, Etsy, and Tumblr.  When I was in high school, I printed Tumblr quotes and taped them to my mirror so I could be surrounded by goodness (or what I thought were deep quotes about people not understanding who I am). Now, scotch tape isn’t needed, nails and hammers are.

Signage from Etsy

Signage from Etsy

My favorite use of signage is this photo from Birch & Bird Vintage Home Interiors.  It’s bright and a tad Southern with the monogram M flower wheel.  And it includes my next must have – Inspiration Boards.

Birch & Bird Home Interiors

  • INSPIRATION BOARDS: 

Inspiration boards are like tangible versions of Pinterest.  Anything you find that inspires you in a magazine, a book (I’ve been known to rip pages, I know, I’m awful), postcards, receipts from movies or dinner where deep conversations were had, or just trinkets.  My inspiration board in my childhood bedroom used to have a Nazar (to ward off evil) just because I thought it was a good totem.  It can truly be anything that breathes inspiration into you.

Some of these inspiration board options are pretty expensive.  My advice is to find a flea market, a shop of stalls filled with wood pieces, a store of vintage finds, a Habitat for Humanity Resource Center, and just find something to DIY.

Inspiration Boards on Etsy

Inspiration Boards on Etsy

I have a few favorite offices with inspiration boards.  The first is from Tumblr (La-Belle-Vie).  I wish I could give credit to the actual person who owns this quaint office space, but here’s the beautiful image. This office is ALL about the inspiration board.  It makes the room, and shows that inspiration boards done right, don’t need to have expensive, luxury furniture.

Tumblr Image @ La-Belle-Vie

The next one is all about color.  It actually looks like a kitchen to me. Maybe it was a kitchen, or those spices just have something going on.  I have a shed in my backyard that I inherited from the last owner.  I would LOVE to make it into a home office, but my fear of snakes and my disgust at scratching mosquito bites until they bleed keeps me out of there.  A girl can dream though.   I think this one is all about organization and paint.

Decobiz Inspiration Office

Then, there’s “decorative clutter” on Pinterest. Wish I knew who had that adorable bench, but again, Pinterest doesn’t really cater to copyright.

“Decorative Clutter” (If this is your image, email me)

I mean, come on, guys, there’s a J.Crew bag up there. Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere, anytime.

  • DESK ORGANIZATION:

I believe desks are where writers, readers, and business professionals can really be themselves.  My creative writing teacher in high school had a taxidermy crocodile head on his desk and we never got the story behind it, but I remember that head being a reason why I really liked him as a teacher.  My dad has clay-wrinkled sculptures that I made in elementary school art and expensive pen holders from his time in management.  My desk at school has two plants: Laverne (philodendron) and Shirley (cactus wearing red flower bow).  It also has a draw-it-yourself frame so my students can let of steam by drawing when they need to.  Desks are for momentos, trinkets, and thingamabobs (thanks, Little Mermaid). If you need a little inspiration, here’s some fun.

Desk Accessories

Desk Accessories

My favorites around the internet are as follows:

This is from OCM BLOG

I just really like the hour glass (PINK HOUR GLASS YES) and the mason jar of paperclips, and the adorable white frames.  It’s just an eclectic mix of colors and pictures.

This is from DIY Enthusiasts

A lamp goes a LONG way and so do fresh flowers.  Who needs a significant other to buy them flowers, Walmart has a bin right by the door – GET YOU SOME, GIRL.

This is from Lovable Lockets

Sometimes the best place to be “girly” isn’t your closet, it’s your desk.  I love this desk design from Lovable Lockets.  It makes me feel feminine, fresh, and modern.

Now I have to go off and stare at my “study” and try to figure out how I can new & improve it into an eclectic, whimsy, genius center.  I’ll take pictures and share when I think I’ve got it where I want it.

“DO WHAT SCARES YOU. BRING A SCARF.”

Before I say anything, I want you to know that I loved Marie Helene-Bertino’s short story collection, Safe as Houses.  Evidence here. 

2 A. M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helen Bertino

Some authors should stick to short stories.  I can’t say yet that this is the case with Helene-Bertino because she’s only now written one novel.  However, it really was a novel of a bunch of stories titled 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas.  This novel is about lost and lonely people in Philadelphia.  It’s specifically about three characters; Madeline, Sarina, and Lorca.  Madeleine is a young elementary school girl who’s mother has passed and father is a bodily ghost that spends everyone else’s waking hours in his bed next to his record player and open bottle.  Sarina is Madeleine’s teacher who is divorced and not really looking for much, but an end of evening ice cream and a little compassion.  Lorca owns the legendary “Cat’s Pajamas” jazz club where he and a posse live until a new cop takes over their street and issues a citation that could put them out of business.  Although the main plot points are about these three characters, there are full “chapters” dedicated to the thoughts of people who bump them on the street, see them in a coffee shop, or have memories deeply embedded with these characters.

“Gathers him in his name – Jack Francis Lorca. We carry our ancestors in our names and sometimes we carry our ancestors through the sliding doors of emergency rooms and either way they are heavy, man, either way we can’t escape.”

Caramel Apple for Madeline @ Joy (Creative Commons)

It’s both uplifting and upsetting.  The minor character chapters seek to show that these three main characters shouldn’t be so lonely, just drifting. They have people that care, or have cared for a very long time. These characters are all exhausted, and people in their lives are dropping, not quite like flies, more like pins, silently and with too much meaning.   The “chapters” were also interesting because they went by time.  I was expecting it to end at 2 A.M., it didn’t, but it was nice to go through one full day with these characters, watching them move, almost literally, through time.

“BUT THEN, her class will be making caramel apples. Madeleine has never had a caramel apple and she wants to taste one more than she wants God’s love.”

Electric Guitar @ Wikipedia Commons

I was really interested in Madeleine’s story because she was the youngest bitter book character that I’ve ever read.  She had no friends, girls were scared of her baditude, and all she wanted to do was sing a solo in the church service.  The reader gets the full brunt of a woman’s death through this small girl.  It’s actually quite a feat because I felt like her grief was real grief.  She was angry, had obsessions, and only wanted few sweet things, but was never given them without a battle.  Her principle has no empathy and her teacher worries without speaking.

“Madeleine has no friends: Not because she contains a tender grace that fifth graders detect and loathe.  Not because she has a natural ability that points her star ward, though she does.  Madeleine has no friends because she is a jerk.”

Sarina, her teacher, is just a simple woman who has returned home after the death of her mother.  The reader finds out the story of her missing father later in the book, and a poor prom experience.  This really is most of her story until a man enters the novel.  Lorca owns the jazz club and takes care of the men within the main band of the club, the Cubanistas.  His girlfriend is practically done with him, and his son is sullen, wild, but a gifted guitar player.

“They are sixteen and skinny.  Their collarbones vault in upsetting directions.”

John Coltrane @ Jason Hickey cdcovers/john coltrane/crescent.jpg (Creative Commons)

This is it, really.  The book had Helene-Bertino’s signature language.  Funky and beautiful, like a good John Coltrane song.  If you read for inventive and lovely language, then read everything she’s written.  As far as a story goes, this whole thing just saddened me.  I finished left with the question, “So what?”  I wasn’t concerned that the people were out of hope, I was just more concerned at the reason that I read the book.  I know these people in my everyday life.  They may not be from Philadelphia, but they are finding themselves, living through it, silent when the world needs them to talk, and open when the world asks them to be closed.  If this story was meant to introduce me to grief, or introduce me to sadness, or acknowledge that everyone is fighting a hard battle, then it did its job, but I’m not sure that was enough.  The big finale, was just odd, honestly.  When I got to the end, I knew the big finish was coming, but it was some weird want-to-be magical realism.  People almost became who they always wanted to be, or what they hated inside themselves came out.  It was all really strange.  It might be worth the read just for that clutter.

“Who cares which way is faster? You can’t say you know a city unless you know three ways to everywhere.  Madeleine swings her legs over the edge of the roof.  I sang on a stage.  She is close enough to high-five Saint Anthony but doesn’t because no matter what kind of thrilling night you’ve had, you do not bother saints this way.”

For a reader who waited for her next book, I was disappointed.  I’m not saying this is a bad book, but it didn’t have the closure I needed and it didn’t say anything new.  Like another reader on Goodreads, I think this novel could get a cult-following. I don’t think it’s introducing a new style to literature, or that it’s fresh or modern, but it’s a catchy song, and it’s beauty in the sadness.   I think a good multi-character book makes you want to read each character, not look towards a mouthy girl who walks a dog, eats breakfast at the local cafe, and tries not to take on second mothers in all the outstretched hands.

“Pedro is an open-air pooch, not prone to evenings at home.  His joints are nimble and his snout superb. He spent the previous night following the scent of a bitch, pink notes and hydrangea and dung.”

Project 365 | Week 46 & 47

Day 335 | Peter Pan

All Teeth

A Miniature Peter Pan.  Never wants to grow up, just jump on the bed.

Day 336 | Split Ends

Jas is really bad at the hair stylish, so we haven’t brought him.

Tail in the face, tail in the face.  Sounds like a Ren & Stimpy song.

Day 337 | It’s Risen! 

Bread

Bread that got left at my house when it was supposed to go to the Thanksgiving Table.  When making it again, it sunk.

Day 338 | Let Down Your Glory, Glory! 

Sunset

Everyone needs a good sunset picture.

Day 339 | Nose Knows

The Night Creature

Day 340 | The Making

Mixing and Baking

The little bits of Thanksgiving. (Behind the scenes).

Day 341 | Quote of the Day

Thursday.

I thought my student’s quote and my quote went along together swimmingly. Shout out Lil’ Wayne for making that happen.

Day 342 | Double Mint Gum

Dolly

Over Thanksgiving, we cloned my boyfriend.

Day 343 | Bump in the Road

If you’ve ever wondered how spoiled my cats are.

They not only model, they sleep like an old married couple.

Day 344 | Storytime

Bedtime Stories

Mau reading the menace bedtime stories.  I was kicked out of my position as almost-favorite and in stepped the boyfriend.

Day 346 | Happy Days

Christmas Card Photo

I won’t really put this in my Christmas card, but I will blast it out all over the blogosphere.  If you want a Christmas card, just email! : ) It’ll be like A Month of Letters all over again.

PS. COMING SOON: BOOKISH PRESENTS FOR CHRISTMAS!