Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Update from FB

I've neglected to blog for about a year now -- instead I've been posting things on Facebook. I decided to transfer some of my facebook posts over to blogger, especially the ones that don't require pictures to explain, so that friends and family who aren't on facebook can keep up.

Eyre Head

Once in awhile you’ll come across a story, and then think to yourself, “Books like this are why I read novels.” They are books that have the ability to hold a mirror up to your own heart, and show you how it works. Once in a great while you’ll read something that is crafted in such a way that it engrosses you while you’re reading it, then keeps coming back to you long afterwards, forming your thinking, making you question your preconceptions.

Jane Eyre has been one such novel for me. It isn’t a perfect work of art, there are problems in the plot structure, and the dialogue is meant to be a window into what the characters believe, instead of how people actually speak. But that is neither here nor there, to point out things like stilted dialogue is like finding fault with a Rembrandt because the frame is dusty.

I’ve read several book reviews on Jane Eyre – it has a myriad of avid supporters. The gothic inspired plot twists, the Byronic anti-hero, the independent natured protagonist all get lots of air-time. It *is* a corking good story, if you just want to read for entertainment. But what has kept me enthralled with this novel for nearly a decade, what keeps me going back to it to read and re-read is the central theme of passion vs. reason in the human heart.

This is a book that asks big questions --- should we measure our lives by an objective standard, or should we act on what we believe will bring us the greatest happiness and pleasure? Do circumstances alter cases? Is it better to be virtuous even if that also means you will be lonely, poor, and desolate? What effect does a profligate pursuit of pleasure have on the mind and soul? What effect does an opposite stoicism and asceticism have?

Some months ago I was contemplating this book, and on the choices Jane made, and the choices that anyone young and passionate will face at some time, it got me to writing. Here is what I wrote.

A Song for All Janes

Who is this Wisdom, that I should take heed,
When blood’s running hot, and fired with need?
Your strength of body, my vigor of mind
Would blossom together, joining, entwined
A fulsome joy that for past grief atones.

Lady Wisdom – that staid, withered, old Crone,
Would say to us, “Stay – I can not condone
Such haste and such heat, such unseemly lust
Only brings sorrow, and feeling you must
Fling caution aside, your Reason does err!”

Cast Wisdom away! What care I for her?
Prating what place and position confer.
For when I see the sun bright on your skin
And do feel your strong fingered hands – I win
Contented pleasures no riches can buy.

The glorious hues of your fringed eyes,
Do blind me to all I know to be wise.
Soft lips that sweet nibbling kisses invite
Fill my soul with encompassing delight
Each passion, most ardent, does gain and grow.

But Wisdom is much more wily a foe
She will not, content, stand by till you know
And acknowledge the force of her refrain
It poisons sweet pleasures, fevers my brain
Till sick with folly, I turn as I ought.

For pleasures aren’t pleasures when too dearly bought,
And Virtue, not Comfort, the friend I’ve long sought.
So turn from me, Dear, your radiant eyes,
Let me remember again to be wise,
For Wisdom brings Peace when let to advise.

_originally posted on fb 6/9/09_

Some little girls dream of their wedding day.

I’ve always fantasized about my house o’ dreams. Maybe it has something to do with the year and a half I spent with my Mom pouring over layouts and square footage with I was 10. My Dad and Grandma had both succumbed to cancer within a month of each other, and I think that my Mom decided that the best way to rebuild her life, and her family, was to build a home.

So we did. That year was a blur of wall paper swatch books, paint chips, and carpet samples. There were decisions to be made on grout color, molding type, and tile size. To me it was a frenzy of exciting discoveries. Our new neighborhood had a pool, and there were two trees in the back yard that were going to be perfect for the hammock I’d always wanted. My Mom was going to have a huge bathroom and a tub you could swim in. It all felt like a great dream.

Now granted, I wasn’t the one who fought with the contractors, applied for the loans, or dealt with the realtors – so I’m looking back with the rose colored glasses of a 10 year old who’d never heard of a 30 year mortgage. All I know is, that after the worst thing that ever could happen to me, did happen to me, this was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

I loved being part of the process. We went out and marked the trees on our lot that we didn’t want torn down during construction, we watched them lay the foundation, and then frame the whole house in a day. The roof and walls went up, and I saw when the house went from having empty sockets for eyes, to gleaming new windows with the stickers still on. Then we finally moved in and got to decorate, settle in, and nest. This house was ours – we claimed every bit of it, every tree, every wall, every light bulb.

From then on I’ve dreamed of what it would be like when I had my own house. A few years back I became interested in eco-friendly design, and have spent dozens of hours pouring over books, videos, and articles on topics like straw-bale construction, grey water reclamation, passive-solar orientation, masonry heaters, and living roofs. I’ve read theories on work flow, and how to use space efficiently. I’ve poured through shelter magazines and design blogs. I’ve estimated costs and looked at land prices – in fact, this dream of mine was a big factor in me wanting to move back to Texas.

I have a file tucked in my bookshelves with all these ideas, resources, inspirations, estimates-- and my sketches. All my graph paper sketches of floor plans and elevations are tucked in among the magazine clippings and printouts. Plans for houses with courtyards, and houses with backyards, houses with game rooms, and houses with lofts, tiny garage studios, and sprawling 5 bedroom ramblers.

I hope one day I get my house o’ dreams, but I do wonder sometimes if it’s not just more fun to dream about it.

_originally posted 6/5/09_

"I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils..."

I love office supplies. The aisle at the store, so pretty with it’s multi colored sticky notes lined up, it’s sweet smell of ink and paper (so much like a bookstore), and the unbearable possibility of all those blank pages has always been a little hypnotizing to me.

I get crushes on certain items. For one whole summer when I was about eleven, I would visit the same package of 200 felt markers every time we went to Walmart, looking at it longingly with big, wide, adoring eyes. There was the affair with the white out (which logically enough, followed my fling with Sharpies of various sizes and shapes). And the one school year that I could not get enough purple pens to satisfy the empty inkwell in my heart. And these, of course, were besides the notebooks and journals of every size, shape, color, and binding which were my perennial delight. Nothing makes my fingers tingle quite like fresh notebook.

There is a dark side to a love affair with office supplies though. Sometimes they don’t love you back. You may find an item that no matter how much to try to love it, you find that it just makes you feel terrible about yourself, and brings out the worst in you. For me, it was day planners. I spent years believing that if I could just find the perfect planner, then suddenly I’d stop being an absent minded Professor who sometimes forgot her own phone number, and start being an organized Type-A who remembered everything without effort because it would always be properly noted, filed, and tabbed.

Of course, like any relationship where one party expects the other to solve all their problems, it was fated for failure from the start. I have a stack of planners from the last 10 years, some (most) with only one or two days filled in. Others have had their tiny pens, and little sticky note pads pillaged, while the rest of the gutted leather shell lies on the shelf accusing me of being a disorganized mess.

But after a decade of failed flings with various expensive planners, I’ve found my true love. So simple and homely, it’s been keeping me company since I was a little girl, but I never saw its true potential and what it could really mean to me until I gave up my Type-A Martha Stewart dreams, and embraced my inner absent minded Professor.

One day I opened up an old Composition book, and realized that all I’d ever wanted from a Day Planner was right in front of me. My unassuming stack of 80 cent, black-and-white notebooks are old friends now, full of jottings, to do lists, quotations, and monthly budgets, scribbles about books and boys, recipes and phone numbers, meaningless doodles and life goals. No need for color coded tabs, or trying to squish a whole list into one little box on a calendar. They’re a joyful, painful, free flowing, day to day mash up, bound between a couple bits of cardboard.

So days like today, when I find myself wandering down that aisle, I don’t linger over things leather bound, or delight over a handmade journal. I put three new marbled notebooks in my basket with a plop, excited to bring them home and begin a fresh sheet.

_originally posted on fb 5/28/09_

Books. Whee!

You have received this note because someone thinks you are a literary geek. Copy the questions into your own note, answer the questions, and tag any friends who would appreciate the quiz, including the person who sent you this. Don't bother trying to italicize your book titles. We know you want to.
NB: I’m only going to answer these questions about books for entertainment -- and leave out scholarly and/or religious books for the most part.

1) What author do you own the most books by?

Without going and counting I would guess Bodie Thoene… She writes historical fiction that I was absolutely hooked on from the time I was 11 until I was about 15. Or possibly Gertrude Chandler Warner – I was a big Boxcar Children reader in elementary and middle school.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

I think I have 5 Bibles, 1 study Bible, 1 random little Bible with no back cover, 1 that my brother gave me for Christmas when I was 12, and 2 audio Bibles on my iPod (different narrators) – all KJV.
3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
I didn’t even notice. You know what I notice though? When someone says your when they mean to say you’re. I hate that.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

Sherlock Holmes. A genius: violinist, boxer, chemist, author, actor, sharp shooter, spy master, martial artist, beekeeper, swordsman, and the best in the world at what he does. I like to think that if he met me, he would forget Irene Adler, and give up the cocaine.

There hasn’t been a single movie, play, or TV show that I’ve seen that really captures the flavor of Holmes the way I see him in my head. – the man in the book wasn’t a hoity-toity, detached, intellectual in a deer-stalker hat. He was a gritty Victorian-era detective with a background of physical prowess. He was able to move undetected among the lowlife underbelly of London’s toughest crime rings. If we’re comparing him to other fictional detectives, he’s got much more in common with Batman than Adrian Monk or Hercule Piorot.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count).

Dude – you’re (not your) talking to an extreme book re-reader – if I like a book I’m liable to read it 3 times just for kicks and giggles. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read Little Women. I can pick that book up and flip to any point in the story and just start reading. It’s like comfort food for the heart.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
See Above.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?

Calculating God – Could Not (would not) Finish It – rubbish in every sense.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
Maybe The Road by Cormac McCarthy

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?

Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things --- fascinating, fun, and hilarious.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?

Oh man… I’m going to agree with Jason on this one, and say Marilynne Robinson. After I read her books I feel a sort of despair that I’ll ever accomplish anything in my life as close to perfection.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

I pretty much hate when they make my favorite books into movies – they’re almost NEVER as good, and I already have my own ideas about what a character/scene looks like. (See: Sherlock Holmes)

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

A few years ago I had several dreams where I was in love with Steve Urkel, or where I was Steve Urkel... he’s not a literary character, but I still thought I’d share.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?

Probably “The Little Lady Agency” by Hester Brown – I don’t really read a lot of chick-lit, but this was wonderful fluffy fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?

Unabridged Les Miserables -- do we really need 200 pages on the Paris sewer system?
Plato’s Republic

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?

The Merry Wives of Windsor – not really obscure, but the best I can do. It was great fun.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

French. It’s much more fun to spend an afternoon with d’Artagnan then Ivan Denisovich. Maybe not so thought provoking, but a lot more fun.

18) Roth or Updike?

I haven’t read any Roth…

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?

Sedaris... I think Eggers is really one of the most talented writers of my generation so far, but he can be so hard to read – I have yet to finish What is the What because I was so depressed. Sedaris is always fun.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

Shakespeare. I’m trying to read one work of Shakespeare a month – I figure eventually I’ll get through everything, and feel like I’ve accomplished something.

21) Austen or Eliot?

Austen. I have a hard time caring about anything I’ve read of Eliot’s.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

Mostly, I wish I had more serious scholarly books under my belt – especially theology and philosophy.

23) What is your favorite novel?
Jane Eyre? Swiss Family Robinson? Little Women? Gilead? The Count of Monte Cristo? I hate this question.

24) Play?
The Importance of Being Ernest – or anything else by Wilde.

25) Poem?

A Mile With Me by Henry Van Dyke. Not the best poem I’ve ever read, but one that always resonates with me.

While we’re on the subject… To all you Aspiring Poets out there: I am of the opinion that there is almost never an excuse for a poem to run for more than 10 stanzas – so please don’t afflict me with 4 pages of raptures on your angst, your lover, or the flowers in spring.

Also – usually if its good poetry it has RYHME AND/OR METER – if you’re confused about what either of those words mean then what you’re writing probably isn’t poetry. Punctuation, spelling, and capitalization do count (damn you e.e. cummings! You made every grammatically challenged lovelorn teenager in the world believe that they don’t need no stinkin’ grammar to write no stinkin’ poem). If your poem is good it probably includes the liberal use of metaphors, similes, and/or anthropomorphic imagery – it is poetry. Poetry does not equal prose + line breaks.

It shouldn’t require intuitive leaps of logic for the reader to understand what the heck the “poet” is talking about. A good poem should EXPRESS something TRUE in a BEAUTIFUL way. When you read a poem you should think, “That is true. I wish I could have said that so well.” Or, “That is beautiful. I wish I could have expressed it so truly.”

End of Rant.

26) Essay?

Essays are one of my absolute favorite forms of literature. Sarah Vowell, Seneca, David Sedaris, David Foster Wallace, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sloane Crosby, Mark Twain, Samuel Johnson, Norah Ephron…if you haven’t read them, you need to start. I’m not picking a favorite essay – but my favorite book of essays is The Art of the Personal Essay compiled by Philip Lopate.

Even if you don’t have time to read, you can find time to read an essay – and feel better for doing so.

27) Short story?

I haven’t read a lot of short stories really – except in school. I feel like if you have an idea that’s good enough to last for 30 pages and make me care about the characters, you might as well make it the first chapter in a book. (example: Ender’s Game – started as a short story, but was really a much much better book)

28) Work of nonfiction?

A Severe Mercy by Shelden VanAucken. Read it.

29) Who is your favorite writer?

I am awed by the force and subtle beauty of Marilynne Robinson’s work. I laugh so hard I snort when I read a Jen Lancaster memoir. Charlotte Bronte addresses themes of passion and morality in her novels that strike me where I live. The sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning are probably the finest ever written in the English language. Too many authors of too many different types of books have formed my mind for me to pick just one: I hate this question too.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

Rhonda Byrne --- I’m sorry but the Secret is a load of hogwash. Poorly written, overly hyped, bad, wrong-headed, hogwash. There is no way on earth that anything that flowed from this woman’s pen deserves 5 bazillion years as the NY Times number one best seller. 50 bajillion dollars have been spent on this book – those dollars could have been spent on good books and that makes me sad.

31) What is your desert island book?

If you’re (not your) talking about for pure entertainment (as opposed to edification or information) purposes, then it would have to be a large brick of a book, but one that didn’t have a sequel. Something like The Count of Monte Cristo … or maybe something funny like a book of essays--- waaaay too hard to choose, yet they always ask this question.

2) And... what are you reading right now?
Glitz by Elmore Leonard
King Lear - Shakespeare

_originally posted on fb 4/7/09_

Love on the High Seas

We were all roused by Skipper's orders before the sun was up -- less than 4 hours after my night watch had ended. I was cold, sleepy, and ravenous. I stumbled out of my birth and into the galley, my sleep drenched senses steering me toward the heat and heavenly scents.

And there, swaying among the strapped down pots, and gimbaled spice wracks was Jimbo -- our tall, sturdy, red faced ship's cook. He'd been hard at it for the last two hours. With nothing more than a tiny kerosene stove that never got hot enough to boil water, a hot plate, and an electric skillet he had created a feast for 25 wolfishly hungry sailors. There was bacon, sausage, and ham, sautéed onions, peppers, jalapenos, cheeses, mushrooms, salsa -- whatever your heart could desire for a filling, savory breakfast.

"Hey gorgeous! What'll it be?" He leaned back against the sink, whipping together eggs and milk in a measuring cup. "I'm making omelets."

He said it with such gusto that I was intrigued -- but wary. I'd never had an omelet I really liked. Usually they were a mouth full of hard puffy eggs with a brown crust on the outside and goo on the inside. I hate gooey eggs. I despise crusty eggs. But I'd eaten at Jimbo's table long enough to trust him.

"Umm -- onions and sausage? Cheese?" I said, unhooking a mug and getting myself some coffee.
"Coming up then!" and he poured out the eggs.
"The trick," he told me while sprinkling my toppings over the eggs, "is that the eggs are just to hold the stuff inside, they shouldn't be too thick."

Half a minute later he handed me my plate, directed me to a pile of toast nearby, and shoo'd me out of his kingdom, already filling orders for two other crew members. I headed topside to eat my breakfast while watching the sun rise over the water and islands. Leaning against the tarpaulin in one of the life boats I took my first bite, admiring the steam curling off my plate. It was fantastic. The eggs -- far from being crusty or gooey -- were tender and savory and utterly satisfying. I was in love. It was the perfect start to what would be a perfect day of sun, wind, food, and friends.

_originally posted on fb 3/7/09_


I found out today that it is possible to stop a man twenty feet away dead in his tracks, a stunned grin tugging at his ears. It’s possible to make him reel back as though he’d run into a wall -- with nothing more than an innocent upward glance through lowered lashes. I watched my rearview mirror to see him turn around, shading his eyes, shaking his head, and smiling dazedly. He stood on wobbly knees, turning to look at my dusty back bumper one more time before I was out of sight.

I’ve seen reactions like this before in men – not just to me, but to other women as well. I’ve seen when a woman walks into a room or passes a man in a coffee shop and suddenly it looks as though he’s taken a blow to the chest or head, and can’t quite remember his own name. She doesn't necessarily need to be beautiful, may not be graceful, or slender, or well dressed – but something about her strikes him and he is captivated. You can see it. Maybe it’s her laugh, her smile, the confidence in her manner, or her scent as she passes– whatever the cause, the effect is immediate and visible.

I’ve never seen a woman react this way to a man. I’ve seen girls get flustered and big eyed, been that way myself a few times when there is a particularly good looking guy around, but I’ve never seen or experienced that knock-me-down-with-a-feather, remind-me-where-I-am-please sort of gut punch from a look.

The closest I remember getting to this feeling was when I was working at a bookstore. It was a busy afternoon, and I was working the registers. I was fast and efficient, talking cheerily to customers about their books as they passed through my line.

I was finishing up a transaction with a trim middle aged man with deep smile lines and bright blue eyes, but my mind had already moved on to the next customer. I passed his change over the counter, and the back of my fingers brushed his upturned palm -- it was cool, and slightly rough. It was like electricity had shocked through my guts. The breath in my lungs got snagged on my breastbone. My eyes caught his as he turned to go – what do you think he saw? I’m sure that I had the same dazed and confused expression I’ve seen in the eyes of men – when suddenly their whole heart is in their eyes.

To this day I don’t know what it was that did this to me – he was attractive, but not anything special, I don’t remember a word that he said, or what book he was buying. I had made that same gesture a thousand times before, touched hands with a hundred men that very day – some a lot younger, and more attractive, and would interact with five thousand more before I stopped working there. But years later I still remember that fleeting contact with a handsome stranger, where for a moment I forgot where I was, and held my whole heart in my eyes.

_originally posted on fb 2/26/09_

template by suckmylolly.com