Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year in Review Part Two

My job affords the luxury of having a ridiculous amount of time to do nothing. (Being a teacher is hard work! Please note that the 8 weeks of vacation I have each year are absolutely necessary to my sanity!) A first, I took no work home to Kentucky with me this year. I have spent my long mornings (well, technically shorter, I guess, as I haven't set an alarm clock. Long in the time spent in my pajamas before I get dressed for the day) reading the Times, New York Magazine and every blog entry from 2008. The interesting part is that I have 96 posts in comparison with 2007's 53. I did start posting poetry this year, which can account for a bit of the increase of posts. I have also spent less time writing in my moleskin journal this year than any other year in the past decade (it feels weird to be able to say that), so for better or worse, I have reflected on life with reading as my main vehicle. As I was reading--and thinking--this week, I remembered one of my favorite movie scenes of all time: when John Cusack's character in High Fidelity organizes his music collection autobiographically. It was interesting to consider my reading life this year in the same manner. Here's what I've found:

1. Nonfiction was an education. I've read more nonfiction this year than ever before. This has been a year where I've discovered my own opinions and have tried to wade through the social and political issues and complications that plague my mind and weigh heavily on my heart. Reading books like Blessed Unrest, Not for Sale, and Jesus for President were an incredible way to learn and to process.

2. Fiction was a means of escape. Comparing my writing style this years to last was telling: somewhere along the way--actually, in November--I realized that my posts were more "review" and "recommendation" style rather than delving into the issues or complicated emotions found in fiction that I typically, and previously, like to unearth. Two things precipitated this reading as escape: one, it was a year of watching friends move (or missing the ones who left in 2007). For as long as I can remember, I have had a-maz-ing girl friends, and for much of this year I felt like Carrie in Sex and the City when she was in Paris looking through the windows at girl friends having brunch. Books became a distraction, especially in the summer when I had nothing else to do and didn't feel like thinking.

3. Poetry was an attempt to crystallize and capture the moments when for a split second everything seemed clear. It is cathartic to record them in writing, and to revisit.

4. The weather has a huge impact on my thought life.

5. Writing with links and pictures and referencing old pieces of writing reminds me of my capstone lit class at Miami. We studied the definition of modern and post modern and the role that technology has in our ability to tell stories. It all seems to follow my ongoing frustration that sometimes there just aren't words.

I haven't done a "favorite people of life" post in a while (see sidebar labels: all posts including pictures of great friends). Here are some of the faces New York City misses:
































The hope is that 2009 will bring more in depth reading, good times with new friends, adventure traveling with the old and the ability to read Harry Potter in Spanish. Books on deck:

The Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
shoot. That's as far as I've gotten. Suggestions welcomed. Book partnerships adored.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year In Review Part One























My Top Ten Reading Experiences of 2008, in chronological order:

1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

2. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

3. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

5. Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

6. The Summer Book by Tove Jansen

7. Amulet by Roberto Bolano

8. Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson

9. Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

10. Not For Sale by David Batstone

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Slavery Still Exists.

I can't say much about this book beyond strongly recommending it. Written in an extremely readable fashion, this book introduces the reader to the issue of human trafficking across the globe--including the United States. It sickens me not only that human trafficking exists, but that so few people are aware of it. It sickens me that women who are trafficked into slavery are treated like criminals when brothels are raided, while johns barely have any legal punishment. The upside is that there are many organizations fighting human trafficking of all kinds, many of which are listed on my sidebar.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I Heart NY.



Flying over the fine city, on my way out--and moreover on my way home-- just reinforces it.
Here are some amusing reasons why.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Studying Sex Trafficking while Watching Gossip Girl. The Reality of the Pendulum Swing of my Life.

One. I just need to share the current view from my couch outside my bay windows: my across the street 4th floor neighbor salsa dancing solo while Christmas decorating. So wonderful. Had to share.

Two. Onto the reading. I finished The Emperor's Children last week and have been drafting a post ever since then, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to say about it. I'm not sure I know what that it, but I'm going to attempt. My apologies if its scattered and not well written.

Moving On. It is the story of three almost-thirtys in New York City and the people who step into their respective lives relationally. I was looking for rich characters; people I'd like to join for dinner and talk about what it's like to live in New York past the post-college years and laugh. The sad news is that I was mostly disappointed in them. (Note: this is not to say this isn't a well written look into pre and post 9/11 in the city that makes people question and think.) Somehow all of their problems seemed shallow and I couldn't garner any empathy whatsoever.

This could have been purposeful, though. The title references one of the character's books in which she studies the cultural value and lack thereof in dressing children. The "emperor" is an allusion to "The Emperor's New Clothes." Perhaps these thirty-somethings are the emperor's children: completely unaware of their shallow lives...inevitably until 9/11 happens.

I guess the question is whether we allow our lives to be permanently changed when we are faced by heartbreaking realities, or do we wait around for a while until we can embrace life as normal again? I've decided I hate un-change, while I confess that I fall prey to it all too often: I read, see, experience something inspiring and two days later I'm spending my time watching mindless (though hilariously satiric! ha.) episodes of Gossip Girl.

I realized that as I hated the characters' elitist, entitled and self absorbed attitudes, that I harbor my own versions. As I wanted to scream at them to get their acts together, I had to laugh at myself. I've realized over the past two years that "getting my act together" is a near impossible feat. Whereas I do think it is possible to be purposeful, loving and intentional, I think it is impossible to have a life where I make every right choice at every opportunity, or use all of my free time to be "productive."

So maybe there's a balance? Realizing it's ok to have mindless outlets while attempting to grow in truth? Having grace with oneself and in turn with others? Laughing. Reading. Crying. Dancing. Hurting. Running.

I guess for me it comes back to being authentic: to just say out loud that we (I...) are a mess? I feel that for years I had this misconception that it was possible to miss the messes in life...I could carefully clean up and walk in a straight line and everything would be fine. The problem was that "everything" is a very broad term and careful living isn't preventative, productive, or necessarily good.

But one day I will figure out this mess! All will make sense! Ha. I think it is the mess that keeps me thinking, and without it I might get lost. Aye.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wonder.


I spend my days with thirteen year olds. Most people make very strange faces at me when I tell them this, followed by some sort of apology. This post is dedicated to all you cynics out there. 8th graders rock and here's why:

Yesterday my student teacher was running the class. His back was toward all of the windows. All of my students and I were facing him--and all the windows, obviously. All of a sudden, the little, teeny snowflakes that had been falling all morning turned into these enormous near-hyperbole snowflakes falling from the sky. I noticed my students drifting away and staring and then I, too, got distracted. I had to ask my student teacher to stop so that we could have a two minute celebration: literally all my students rushed to the windows and I couldn't have wiped the smiles from their faces if I had tried.

This. Is why I love my job.
This. Is proof that 8th graders don't always want to be jaded.
This. Is what helps me appreciate the winter.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Good and the True. Nostalgia and Longing.

Sometimes. Most of the time. I forget. I make life out to be so so complicated. I'm not quite sure what it was that made me start laughing at myself tonight, but it has been one of those evenings where I've remembered all that makes my cup over. I will attempt to bring you through the narrative of my current state mostly because I have to have some kind of outlet for the overflow.

First, the Good: Mary Chapin Carpenter's alto voice. The toy piano sound in Sufjan Steven's "Lo, Er a Rose is Blooming." The classical bass in Trinity Grace's version of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" that cuts. right. to. my. heart.

The True: My pastor this weekend talked about how the season of advent and its waiting are meant to wean us away from that which is instant. I'm not sure if it's my ipod, my netflix or lack of dependents, but I have gotten pretty used to doing what I want when I want...and this is not a good thing. I would please like my life to be simple, organized, physically and emotionally healthy and productive. Today. Aye. I think I am finally truly learning that life can not always be neat, packaged and well designed; and that it is probably better that way.

The Good: following my mom's recipe for chocolate chip cookies and listening to Christmas music. Laughing (and dancing) to Sufjan's "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance" (especially the line: your sister's bangs, she cut them herself).

The True: Today my school had two speakers come and talk to our kids about social action. Both are individuals who had completely different, but difficult stories: one from a broken, broken family in the U.S. and one a former child soldier from the Congo. Their passion ignited my homeroom...they all came back to class as if they had finally woken up, and it was impossible not to be teary at their earnestness. Talking with 13 year olds about how life is not about the stuff that we own is pretty powerful.

The Good: sitting and listening to Christmas music with old, good friends at Rockwood Music Hall and the Gregory Brothers' rendition of "The Gift of the Magi" and Sarah Fullen singing "Go Tell It on the Mountain."

The Nostalgia: I'm not quite sure what can account for my deep longings lately. But my heart was aching for England, so I looked through my pictures and just sat and remembered. And this was good for my soul. How is it even possible to become so mindless that we forget the good and the true? I'm not sure, except that I do it all the time. But. I'm happy to report that I'm feeling like myself. And full. And thankful.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Hey guys, it's snowing."

espresso machine
laptops open
a saturday evening mix
of social and scholarly.
words and a cold wind grin
gush
childlike
through the door

Sunday, December 7, 2008

advent. and wanting to find hope in the lonely exile.

I recently read an article in New York Magazine that quoted one of my favorite short stories: "In J. D. Salinger’s 1952 short story “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period,” the main character observes that wishing to be alone “is the one New York prayer that rarely gets lost or delayed in channels, and in no time at all, everything I touched turned to solid loneliness.” Interestingly enough, the article's thesis is that the aching loneliness that many associate with urban life is actually a myth.

Nonetheless, the Salinger quote got me thinking about the way people in New York interact. The great thing about living in this city is that it is nearly impossible to completely ignore the brokenness, whether that is in the hungry and homeless, the consumerism or the selfishness. Yes, I think this is a great thing. It is so easy to live an isolated existence where real need seems distant, impersonal and far beyond our thoughts and daily lives.

I wrestle so much with the broken state of humanity. Its immensity weighs on my heart and traps my thinking. Today's message and music at church, though, offered a glimpse of hope--of the truth that gets eclipsed way too often in my mind:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The music in the first lines of the verse seem mournful themselves. I wish I could type the way the violin and classical bass sounded this morning. Lonely exile seems fitting...life is not as it should be. The last two lines have so much hope, and yet they still have a tinge of the current reality of brokenness.

So. Despite my sometimes-tendency to be a homebody and hibernate in my apartment (especially in the winter) I want to be an active waiter in this advent season: knowing that ultimately there will no lonely exile and doing what I can so that people don't feel the lonely exile quite so much.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

sometimes the best kind of weekend morning involves:

English breakfast tea.
Rain that forces one to stay inside.
Interesting reading material.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

huh.

sometimes.
but not often.
winter air is
cathartic
purposeful
strengthening
perfect.

i'm just as surprised as you are.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The latest book I read without really thinking.





























Continuing on the strand of being more reflective in my reading, the first character that I thought about was Blue Van Meer from Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, who explains to the New York Times that Blue "filters every life experience she has through books." Interesting. The chapters are organized as a list of "Required Reading," each one named after a major literary text: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Howl, Metamorphoses...In light of my last post, it was really interesting to figure out what the connection was between each chapter's title and the events that unfolded. After reading the book, I was looking at the author's website for the book. In a clever move, she had a link to "Find Out What It All Means," which causes a Cliff's Notes image to pop up. When you click on any of the topics in the Table of Contents, it flips to a page that says "In life, there are no shortcuts." Yes, we must do our own thinking with this one. This reminded me of Umberto Eco, whose book SIx Walks in the Fictional Woods said "the text is a lazy machine asking the reader to do some of its work."

The irony of this post is that I was a lazy reader during this book and was mainly driven by the plot alone to finish it. This was what made me stop and realize that I lost a little bit of myself as a reader and thus I needed to refocus a little bit. (Again, see last post.)

So. Next time will be different. Deeper. Ha. But in my old habit of writing review posts, I would recommend this to anyone who appreciates literature and finds intellectuals slightly facetious and yet slightly interesting. It's a mystery with a crazy, unexpected ending. I did stay up past midnight on school nights while finishing.

A regrouping. It seems I need this at least a few times a year.

Something that I noticed about my reading life lately--basically by revisiting my recent blog posts since the summer--is that most of my writing about my reading has been a review style. I just reread my first blog post ever, from almost two years ago, and was reminded of older phases of my reading self--mainly that it was reflective...it forced me to think about the world, my life, the hearts of people, my relationships, and complex issues.

At some point last spring, I began reading as an escape mechanism or as a distraction or a way to keep busy. I think that my brain subconsciously didn't want to think deeply as I watched friends move and had to reestablish my place in the city without them and without plan to leave. Reading was no longer a window, but a distraction.

Rereading the following quotes made me hunger for a deeper reading life:

"Why are we reading, if not in the hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?"
-Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

"What then is the good of--what is even the defense for--occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person? Or of fixing our inner eye earnestly on things that can never exist..? The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself...We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own...We demand windows." -C.S. Lewis

So. I am seeking to think a little bit more. I am seeking a life that is reflective once again. More to come soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On Certain Sundays in November.

I'm not sure if it's the fact that winter seemed to unofficially start this week (and forced me to bust out my ankle length down coat, hat and mittens) or the fact that a few weeks of it getting dark at 4:30 is all it takes for me to start dreaming about space, light, warm weather and travel, standing in the 80 degree weather overlooking the river in Austin last weekend or if it was seeing images like this on design*sponge:












But whatever it is, I'm feeling a little antsy and wishing for some sun, some evening light and a deck to sit on (or a mountain to climb or a lake to swim in...)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Most Thought-Provoking Book of Late.

The title, as I've mentioned, is ironic. Don't be scared. Jesus for President is an incredibly interesting, brave look at not only American culture, but Christian culture today. Shane Claiborne (author of The Irresistible Revolution) and Chris Haw start at the beginning and take their readers through the Old Testament, then into the Roman Empire during the early days of the church and right up to the present moment in the United States: a journey of how life that is truly life has been distorted by the culture of consumerism and power that is good for few and oppressive for many.

It is impossible to respond to this book in one post. I started reading it this summer and just recently finished it, not because it was boring or I wasn't able, but because it was so much to take in and reflect on in one sitting. I read the first part three times before I could move on. For as long as I've been reading this book, I've tried to imagine what I would say about it, but realized that there aren't quite words.

Reading Shane Claiborne is an extremely thought provoking exercise for not only the political, but the spiritual imagination. His views are extreme in many different ways yet challenging. Some seem realistic and then there's the part of me who looks at the history of people and wonders if the extreme change he is calling for is possible. The culture I am a part of and my selfishness butts up against so much of it. But. All I can say is that the Litany of Resistance at the end of the book is one of the most beautiful collection of words I've read in a long time. So all I can do is recommend this book and then ask that we can get coffee and talk about it. (I'm serious. Alison? Meaghan?) For now, here are a few things to think about:

"Most of the ugliness in the human narrative comes from a distorted quest to possess beauty."

"God entrusted [his people] to bless the world, not 'rid the world of evil.' "

"The statistics had a face. Poverty became personal. And that messes with you."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Best Fall Book Ever?





I read this book at the greatest bookstore in New York today. There aren't words. There may have been tears. It is that lovely.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Leaves from a Fourth Floor Window Saturday Morning.

I need to rush.
I'm in fear
all the yellow leaves will lose their grasp
before I can write.
Their brightness
against the gray sky and brown stone and cement
makes my heart ache.
A few take shelter on window ledges
or master the art of traveling as the crow flies
for blocks at a time.
They want to stay
for a little longer, I think
with my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"I believe the world is beautiful and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone" (Roque Dalton): Why Poetry is Going to Save Me from Winter.


When I taught seventh grade, we studied poetry in the spring: it was the essence of rebirth to me. Longer days, lots of sun, blossoms on the trees and the finest that the English language had to offer. Writing and thinking and reading seemed to just flow out of my being.

Last spring, I taught 8th grade and we didn't have a poetry unit. Last spring, my best friend in the city moved away, following another dear friend and soon to be followed by yet another. It was dark, even with daylight savings time...sometimes I think it lasted right through the summer. But.

The fall has worked it's magic as it always seems to do and I feel inspired to write, read, think and teach. The best news, though, is that the 8th grade has decided to incorporate a poetry unit into December and January. Yesterday I got to plan and imagine and read poems aloud with the amazing women I teach with, and I got all caught up in the beauty and power of poetry once again.

Just the thought of reading poems aloud to my students and writing poems with them and teaching them how poetry can enable us to express, explore and understand the world around us and our place in it seemed to make the days not quite so dark. And though I'm knee deep in writing a picture book for our Social Action Unit, I'm excited about continuing to write--and reclaiming "writer" as an essential part of my identity.

In my researching for this unit, I came across Life Lines, a project sponsored by Poets.org. People send in lines of poetry that have become life lines to them. It is beautiful and inspiring.

So. My hope is that although this unit is over before the worst of winter arrives (February and March), I hope that it stores up enough passion to last through to spring.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Reading like a writer. And like a reader. And like a teacher in The Secret Life of Bees.


Two things. First, I mentioned this weekend that I reread The Secret Life of Bees to bring my reading self back to life. Sigh. Second, my teaching life has been incredibly energizing this year. I'm obsessed with my 8th grade Reading and Writing team...we've been diving into the craft of teaching and have all been writing in order to study the process of real writers. It has been inspiring and motivating. So it's no surprise that this post is about the Secret Life of Bees and inspired by school. I'm a dork. I can't help it.

My students' homework assignment today was to write an entry in their notebook about their current reading life. To model, I talked about how I had to abandon a book and read an old favorite to get back to my reading "zone" (a term that only middle school English Language Arts use. Sorry. Ever gotten lost in a book? That's the zone! Ha.). I told my students that my "purposeful paragraphs" were going to be the background information about my recent reading state and how The Secret Life of Bees inspired me as a reader, and as a writer. And, to further attest to my needing help, I decided to do the homework, too. On my blog. So.

As a reader. First, this book is a treat to read. Sue Monk Kidd's descriptions name emotions that previously had been unnameable to me: "I didn't know what to think, but what I felt was so magnetic and so big it ached like the moon had entered my chest and filled it up." This is also a book about women who share a sisterhood--and there is just something about having amazing girl friends that resonates when the Daughters of Mary come together in this story. I love the strength that they offer to one another and the tender wisdom and patience they offer to the motherless Lily. And, Lily and August are lovers of literature and words. Writers and readers are cut from the same branch--because they know that the people who read their books are the kinds of people who love books (see The Book Thief, House on Mango Street, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn...). "Really, it's good for all of us to hear it again," she said. "Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here." Man. There aren't words (I don't know what to think, but what I feel is magnetic...aye.)

As a writer. My writing took a backseat for most of the summer, which was quite tragic. But as the fall usually does, inspiration creeps in and I once again have that feeling where I need to have a creative outlet for all that's going on in my head. What I have been thinking the most about lately is how to capture complex emotion. Lily Owens is so well written...it is almost like therapy reading this book. She begins as just a girl, curious and broken. I can picture in my head the prewriting that Kidd must have done to develop her so poetically and realistically. I want to create rich characters. Right now. I also love how throughout Lily's "coming of age" that August Boatwright is just steady and solid and wise. She is not the kind of annoyingly perfect kind of woman, but one who is seasoned and has spent some serious time reflecting. Lily and August's relationship is so so beautiful to me.

As a teacher. Coming of age stories never get old to me. And I don't think this is mutually exclusive with being a teacher of children who grow up in front of me. But. I cannot wait to talk with some of my students about this book...about how Lily responds to her life and how she changes. The metaphors are so rich and life giving. I'm excited to hear how girls respond to this, because again, I don't know what to think, but what I feel is magnetic.

(and no, I don't think I can see the movie, as much as I love Alicia Keys. I just don't want any of the pictures in my mind to change. Sigh.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Things good for a heart that is beginning to feel like itself again.

1. Read books with other people. One thing that drives me crazy about education classes is when they make you teach a class to adults the way you'd talk to children. Inauthentic and stupid. I'm taking a class right now with a woman who I think is the most brilliant reading and writing professional developer ever. In order to study strong readers, she says that we need to challenge ourselves as readers and see what we do when we read hard books. This is s dream for this former English major who longs to talk books with people. We read Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. (This alone was exciting enough...I've realized my love for crime and mystery television in the past few years, but have always stayed away from that genre of books. Atkinson's novel was such a well written crime novel. I highly recommend!) When we sat down to talk about the book with partners at class this week, we were asked to find a page that we'd want to read out loud, a page that we loved and a page that evoked some strong emotion in us. Slowing down and talking about books and good writing deepens the reading process so much. And even though I teach this for a living, reading literature beyond the plotline is one of the most satisfying experiences as a thinker.

2. Look for the good in old favorites. Old Counting Crows is a love of my life and some my most favorite driving music of all time. It took me a long time to purchase their new CD and was initially really disappointed in Saturday Nights Sunday Mornings, despite my love of the album title as the essence of Adam Duritz's song writing. And though I can't listen to the album the whole way through the way I would do with August and Everything After or Recovering the Satellites, there are some quality songs. Please listen to On Almost Any Sunday Morning and When I Dream of Michelangelo. It feels good to want to listen to a Duritz song on repeat again.

3. Reread Favorite Books. I spend too much money on my reading material. I've decided that other than the books I need to read for my class (and unless Foer comes out with something new), I'm going to reread books I love and that were life changing. The first one I picked up was The Secret Life of Bees and it's just so beautiful it makes me want to cry. It reminds me of what is Good. And I refuse to see the movie in fear that it will paint a different picture in my mind. Upcoming reread: The Waves by Virginia Woolf.

4. Pay close attention to the fall and drink your fill of English Breakfast tea.

Humbling. Myself as a Reader.

Who are you as a reader? This is a question that my department often asks of its students. One of the philosophies we base our work on is that students basically stop reading in or right after middle school, so we try to create classroom communities where kids can choose the books they read rather than having everybody read the same thing. This makes for difficult management at time (do we have books kids like? are they reading on their level?), but well worth it (most kids actually read and can name books that have changed their lives). The basic tenet we guide them with is pick a book you're excited to read that is at or just above your level.

This is the first piece of advice that I need to apply to myself. I recently started reading Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. It won the National Book Award. It is supposed to be amazing. But. I didn't enjoy reading it. It's not a light book, and I would dutifully pack it in my bag every time I left my apartment, thinking I would definitely read it on the subway. That is, until I found that I could play solitaire on my ipod...I mean, what better way to spend my time than staring at pinky-nail size cards? It's good for brains like mine to use logic every once in a while, right? It was so er, enthralling, that I couldn't put my *ipod* down. Tree of Smoke remained at the bottom of my bag. Interestingly enough, this was right around the time I went through a two week period where I didn't feel like myself. I wasn't reading and had zero motivation.

This is what we like to call a "teaching point." We never want our students to get stuck in books like this because they really do stop reading...and if I can be thrown off in my reading life, you can bet that so will kids. So I tried to wrap my mind around the idea that--just as I tell kids--it is ok to once in a while abandon a book. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I am mostly right brained, I have a few left brained tendencies--I like to be organized. I like cleanliness. I like to finish what I start, which was a problem for this Tree of Smoke dilemma. It pains me to leave a book unfinished. I see it sitting on my bookshelf haunting and taunting me.

But. I am trying to take my own teaching advice. When I realized the negative repercussions of not being engaged in my reading, I decided it was time. Well, in the back of my head I still think I will finish it, just like The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana...shoot. This has happened before and I didn't learn.)

So who am I as a reader? Someone who wants to be engaged and challenged by my reading...but when the challenge completely throws off the rest of my reading life, my personal life and my writing life (I obviously haven't blogged much lately...and yes, I use that in a verb), it is time to set my pride aside and admit.

I have to abandon this book.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ok.

So inspiration is slowly trickling in. Sigh. First, a few of the reasons:
1. Brooklyn Modern, an amazing design book on my favorite borough (Thank you Katy!)
2. Fall. Let's be honest. This season truly is the best. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time walking around Brooklyn in the past few weeks, and the tree lined streets and the brownstone stoops covered in yellow leaves are almost too much for my heart. Especially if I am either drinking tea and/or listening to great music at the same time.
3. My living room is painted!

The third piece of information is very recent as my living room was painted just yesterday. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since, so I decided to think for a little while about why that was true. I came to realize that it symbolizes forward progress in our quest to redecorate. My roommate and I have been brainstorming for so long and now it is coming into fruition. This is a very good feeling. I am currently sitting at a cafe table that sits in our bay windows that look out over the treetops and rooftops and church spires of Park Slope. Sigh.

When my apartment is well designed, my life seems to function at a much higher level. For whatever reason, my mind doesn't feel cluttered when my physical space is not only organized but life giving--a space that invites thought and conversation and relaxation. My mind has felt off track for a while, and I'm sure if I dig deep enough I can find more concrete reasons, but I also think that it has to do with the flux that my living room has been in since August. So. I'm not posting pictures of anything yet, but it is all coming. Soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A completely random post for my favorite Kendra.

I'm mid book and without much to say. Hence a few thoughts written to the heart-hurting gorgeous heirloom tomato I cut open tonight:

Not like others,
Your poppy-like red insides
surprised me
and I wanted to frame you
and your many intricate caverns and veins
furnished with generations
of farmers and their fields past.
Don't I always say that I want
the beauty
to be a part of me?

So I ate.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

an ode.

My reading life the past week has been a little sub-par. I'm reading a book that is supposed to be amazing, but I'm having a hard time getting drawn up into it. I have promised myself I will read it on all my subway rides this weekend, though, so that I can make some progress. So, it has been other words captivating me this week. Mostly songs.

Last night I found myself defending Ohio fiercely. Not that people were taking a strictly offensive position against my home state, but they were wondering what could possibly be good about it. And insulting Cincinnati (and the city of Dayton, but let's be honest). It should be stated that I haven't lived in Ohio for over 5 years. My parents have since moved. But. There is something ridiculously poetic about our cornfields, creeks and roadside vegetable stands, our Friday night football games and back roads. The interesting part is no matter what I said about the fine state, I could not convince anyone of its greatness. And this I have decided I actually like, even though many may laugh at me if I mention that I know of one of our country's most ignored gems. And of course, nostalgia colors life differently sometimes. But not the autumn.

So obviously, when I was wide awake at 4 am this morning, there was nothing I could do but listen to Over the Rhine while trying to fall back to sleep. Beyond my absolute love of their lyrics and music, they understand the beauty and home that is Ohio. So my point is that this post is an ode to Over the Rhine--whose music and gorgeously written seasonal email updates remind me of and make me long for home.

You really should download the following immediately. Limiting this to 5 was quite painful.

1. Anything At All/Ohio
2. Born/Drunkard's Prayer
3. Latter Days/Good Dog Bad Dog
4. Silent Night/Darkest Night of the Year (duet version...sorry it's not Christmas time. It's just too good not to mention)
5. Suitcase/Ohio

Monday, September 29, 2008

humanity.




i went to look
at art
and remembered.

i had forgotten
to look at faces.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bel Canto

After meaning to read this book for a few years, I finally got around to it. It was one of those books that I didn't appreciate it's beauty until it was nearly over. Unfortunate. It is the story of a number of wealthy businessmen and their wives from all over the world and a group of Latin American terrorists who take the men hostage at a party. Intending to kidnap only the president of an unnamed Latin American country, when he did not show, they settled for the businessmen and Roxane Cross, a world renown opera star. The most interesting part to me was how Ann Patchett explored the breakdown of human relationships and the the needs of the human mind when placed in such a situation.

The hostages and the terrorists within time broke the one rule that could ruin everything: they began to see each other as people and not as enemies. And, like just like the poets of the past have predicted over every age, it was art that began to break down the walls. Bel Canto means "beautiful singing" and when Roxane Cross started to practice again, the entire house was captivated by the beauty of her voice: "Kato played another and then another until everyone else in the room forgot that they badly wanted to be someplace else." I am so fascinated by the power of art: be it painting, music, theater, literature to remind people of what is beautiful and good:

"All of the love and longing a body can contain was spun into not more than two and a half minutes of song, and when she came to the highest notes it seemed that all they had been given in their lives and all they had lost came together made a weight that was almost impossible to bear. "

I don't want to give away the story of the hostages and their captors, but I have been trying to think of what else I could say about the bewitching universality of music and art, but with no surprise to myself, I realized there are no words.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Four time zones later, back on the BQE.

the moon slouched low and wedged;
midwestern in its autumnal glow.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Summer Reading Conclusion.

One thing I have realized about myself this summer is that I function better as a person when I have a schedule. Otherwise, I wake up around nine and before I know it, it's noon and I can't really explain what I have spent the whole morning doing. This summer, I had high hopes of being employed. I planned my travel (or lack thereof) around it, and was actually looking forward to working in the morning and doing writing projects in the afternoon. Since I wasn't employed, any hopes of a schedule fell to the wayside. And after I stopped stressing about not having a job, I found that my motivation to be productive had waned completely. Or, it could have been writer's block? Either way, I did spend a lot of time reading, though.

I wanted to highlight a few of the books that I read. They've been sitting next to my bed in a pile, signifying that I needed to write about them. But, we all know that didn't happen. But anyway, here are a few:
1. Rape a Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates: The title of this book is provoctive and potentially offensive enough that I avoided reading this one on the subway. However, it was much less offensive inside the actual pages. Oates writes part of the book in the second person from the voice of a twelve year old girl who witnesses the violent rape of her mother. This was actually the most thought provoking part of the story for me: "You were Bethel Maguire everybody called Bethie. Your childhood ended when you were twelve. Always you would think if." It is simulataneously a tragic coming of age story as well as a portrait of judgement.

2. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu: I initially read about this in the New York Times Book Review, and it really did live up to the praise it received. Though it was slow moving at times, this is an incredible story of an African immigrant, Sepha, in Washington, DC. The title comes from an excerpt from Dante's Inferno:
Through a round aperature I appear,
Some of the beautiful things that heaven bears,
Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.

Sepha and his friends continually ask the question--both out loud to each other and to themselves in their minds--How did I end up here? Sepha then asks a question that I think is one all people ask at one time or another: "Where is the grand narrative of my life?" (page 147). In his quiet search for meaning amidst life's heartbreaks, he runs across another poet's words that completely capture the heartbreaking and hopeful essence of this story:
We have come this far, to find we have even further to go
The last traces of a permanent twilight have faded and given way
To what we hope is nothing short of a permanent dawn.


3. Amulet by Roberto Bolano: I picked this book up last spring at the Book Expo of America, having no idea what a gem it was. I read it early in the summer and then began seeing Bolano's name everywhere. A Chilean writer, his work has only recently been translated in English. The story is set in a tumultuous Mexico City during the 1960's, the main character Uruguayan ex pat, slightly crazy lover of poetry. She is one of the most interesting characters I have met...and hard to completely understand as she slips in and out of lucidity. But you can't read her and not feel moved if you are a lover of language and art: " Dust and literature have always gone together..I conjured up wonderful and melancholy scenes, I imagined books books sitting quietly on shelves and the dust of the world creeping into libraries..." Art and words are her hope, and the voice that Bolano pens is original, highly creative and beautiful.

Now I'm wishing that I actually took the time to write about each of these individually, but I'm considering myself lucky if you made it to the end here. Other notables included Middlesex (completely thought provoking), The Brooklyn Follies (fun because it's set in my neighborhood), Looking for Alaska (young adult), Breaking Dawn (I will eventually write about this 4th and last novel in the Twilight saga) and The Same Kind of Different as Me (a great read for anyone who grew up in a middle to upper middle class church...tells the amazing story of a wealthy couple and a homeless man whose lives changed as they began to understand and know one another.)

Ok! I'm done! I feel sufficiently energized to start posting regularly again:)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ok, ok.

It seems as though each year I need to take about a month's vacation from my blog. But not to worry, the fall is on it's way and with it comes much inspiration and a follow up on my summer reading. Soon enough.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Today I am Plagued by Babel.

(painting is by Los Angeles artist Alexandra Grant)

Sometimes I wonder if our lack of understanding of one another is the main cause of heartbreak in the world. If our inability to see one another as people with stories and loved ones, with tragedies and triumphs. This morning I was reading about the creation of the tower of Babel and how the people wanted to "make a name for themselves." In my understanding, so often we end up a mess when we try to make a name for ourselves because we forget to notice the people around us, and loneliness can feel like a mental plague. The Old Testament teaches that as a result of the arrogance of his people, that he confused their languages, so that they would have to depend on him to understand one another in their difficulty and suffering. I can see how this, ideally, would make sense.

But then to flash forward thousands of years and the confusion rooted so deeply in the human experience. When I saw the movie Babel last year, my heart broke because it was such a poignant portrait of modern day confusion. The inability to communicate with others (on every kind of level) snowballed from minor misunderstandings and complications into violence and deep disconnection among humanity.

I just wish that we would desire to see humanity in the world; to be aware of the brokenness that sits behind every face. I wish that we would look outside of the name we are trying to make for ourselves and into the eyes of people. Is there a chance that could happen? It is a beautiful thing to imagine. I'm convinced we must look outside of ourselves. How do we begin as a people?

Summer Storms.

My brain isn't feeling poetic per se this summer. If it were, I'd find a much better way to write about this (though, I am realizing that most of my writing stems directly from the weather and the seasons in the city...not sure how I feel about that) but I must take a minute to stop and share my love of being at home with nowhere to go when it is about to storm like mad. It is a gloriously cool 70 degrees outside and I opened all of my bay windows and put on a chunky, button up sweater. Our couch is currently situated between the windows and I have a pile of books, my moleskin and some Irish Breakfast tea sitting next to me. This fourth floor walk-up comes in handy in times like this when I can see all the tops of buildings and the sky is dark and big and ominous. Sigh.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Soundtrack of Life.


I spent a ridiculous time with one of my best friends from high school last weekend laughing about all of our favorite songs from the mid to late nineties. On the way back to our hotel from a wedding, I was in the car with great, great friends and all of us are singing all the words to the Counting Crows with the windows down. Sigh. It never ceases to amaze me how songs that remind me of a specific time and place can just break my heart (in the good way).

So, since this summer has equaled an abundance of time where I've felt like a waste of space, I decided to put my time to good use, rather than continuing my incessant reading nymag.com or watching shows i don't even like on hulu. (Because clearly, being productive is too much to ask...I have read a lot, but all of those thoughts are still sitting in draft form because I can't bring myself to actually *think*. Sorry.)

Back to the point...I organized my ipod playlists! It is beautiful! I made an impulse purchase (smart? no. worth it? yes.) when my nano died. This opened a whole new world of not having to rotate out all of my music. With this newfound musical freedom, I embarked on making a plethora of playlists. So these are some of the highlights of songs I forgot about and what they remind me of...

CHS: Friday night football games. Listening to 101.5 on the way to school. Sitting on driveways til 5 minutes before curfew.
Back to the Earth-Rusted Root

Hook-Blues Traveler
You Learn-Alanis
Interstate Love Song-Stone Temple Pilots
Beauty of Gray-Live

CHS Country Version: cross country meets. Buying Wrangler jeans at the Silver Spur. Country Concert in Ft. Laramie.
Amy's Back in Austin-Little Texas
Goodbye Says it All-Blackhawk
The Beaches of Cheyenne-Garth Brooks
Don't Get Me Started-Rhett Atkins

Miami: Cayo Costa. the House of Mud porch. State route 73. Dancing with Springboro.
Demons-Guster
Don't You Want-Wheat
By My Side-Ben Harper
The General -Dispatch
Escape-Enrique. Ha.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Wade into the Awkward: Broken Communication in Zadie Smith's On Beauty

A passage in a book I recently read broke my heart and left me thinking for days. I found it in On Beauty, by Zadie Smith, a novel about the falling apart of a family made up of a white father, black mother, their three children and drama that ensues as each struggles with what makes up his or her own identity and life. At one point the father, Howard, goes to visit his own father, Harry, whom he hasn't seen in 4 years. Now an intellectual professor at an elite east coast college, he goes back to his old working class neighborhood in England and struggles to communicate:

"Harry on the edge of his seat, pleading, and always pleading with the wrong words. Howard already incensed...They didn't mean for it to be like this. But it was like this. Both had other intentions...Harry just wanted Howard to sit down, start again. There were four more hours of quality viewing lined up before bedtime--all of which he and his son might watch together in silent companionship, occasionally commenting on the presenter's overbite, another's small hands or sexual preference. And this would be another way of saying: It's good to see you. It's been too long. We're family. But Howard couldn't do this when he was sixteen and he couldn't do it now. He just did not believe, as his father did, that time is how you spend your love. And so, to avoid a conversation about an Austrailian soap actress, Howard moved into the kitchen to wash up his cup and a few other things in the sink. Ten minutes later he left. " (page 296, 302)

I suppose that I find myself sympathizing most with Harry. I can picture his face, wrought with the anguish of good intentions, but being deeply misunderstood. My heart falls apart picturing the thick, deep emotions across his face, as if I can see into his very self. When Howard walked in it says: " The older man was already crying. His hands shook with emotion." I want to shake Howard and tell him to grow up, to have patience.

People fall into patterns of behavior that somewhere along the line they begin to believe that they can't break, so they cling to moments of awkwardness rather than trying to see what lies beneath the surface...rather than trying to see through to the person's heart and goodness. Ugh. I can't really find any other words for this, except that it pains me. Sigh. And I think in order to avoid moments like this, and to move forward and heal, we have to wade into awkward.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

A few weeks ago I finished Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, an author I've been wanting to read for quite some time. I did a little bit of research on him, and among other things, he is known for his very unconventional narrative styles and Chronicle was no exception. My typical favorite kind of book is one that incorporates poetic prose; one that lyrically uses language to convey the parts of life where mere words are not always enough.

However, this book is told in a very straightforward, (though non-linear) matter of fact way, which makes sense because the narrator is a journalist. He is trying, years later, to gather of all the facts about the murder of Santiago Nasar, What stood out to me the most is that Nasar's death really was foretold--the Vicario brothers were under the impression that he slept with his sister, the reason the sister was returned to her family after her wedding night, and were out to defend her honor. They told everyone they ran into that they were going to kill Nasar. So I have two questions:

Why were they telling this to everyone? Was it a crying out for someone to stop them, so that they can still feel they were honoring their sister, but didn't have to go through with it? Was it an intentional boldness, showing that they weren't afraid of the coming consequences? Was it a testing of the townspeople?

One of the most interesting parallels in my experience is that time and time again, students of mine tell me that they want to have consequences and boundaries in their lives. (Of course in the same breath they will tell me that they want to break them!) I have seen parents either afraid to tell their children no, or sadly, parents who do not care enough to say no, which brings me to my next question:

Why didn't the townspeople do something? Nearly the entire town had heard about this impending murder before Nasar, but only a couple of people actually tried to warn him. Did they think that it wasn't their business? That someone else would do something? Did they suffer guilt afterwards for not striving to stop this?

What scares me is how much this parallels humanity in general. What are the things that we know are happening in our neighborhoods, cities, country and world, but we look after with a vague apathy? What kind of walls have we created around ourselves that cause us to sit and watch things happen, but not step in to do something? Not that people can fight for everything, but should we all be fighting for the one thing that really moves us the most? Are we serving-and loving- the people we care the most about as we watch them make destructive decisions?

A death was foretold. Foretold. Ugh.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Summer Book.


















The title captures everything. I really think that this is *the* summer book, literally. I won't say much about it besides recommending it to the following kinds of people:

1. You think summers are best spent on lakes.
2. You enjoy witty, wise grandmothers.
3. You find adventurous little girls endearing.
4. The summer time makes you sigh and you often think about what summer is meant to be.
5. You miss having whole summers that seem to encompass all that summer is meant to be.
6. Well written, poetic vignettes make your heart hurt.

Sigh. This was a lovely, lovely read.

The Unfortunate Space Between Books.

I have been reading quite a bit this summer and I have found that sometimes I hate picking out a new book. Even if I have dozens in my room stacked and waiting to be read. Even if I have books I know will be good.

I've realized that I have a hard time giving up my shared life with the characters I've been so invested in. I find it not fair, sometimes, that they get to go on living, but that I have to journey back to my world. And I get so used to those characters that I find myself not ready to get to know new characters right away. This is a problem because I am a chronic reader--I always have a book in my bag.

This is an issue reading shorter books as well: as soon as I get to know the characters pretty well, the story ends. And if it's still early enough before bed, I will want to keep reading, but sometimes it is simply impossible to pick up a new book with all the old characters on my mind still.

Sigh. Reading on summer vacation. It's a tough life.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Note on the Weather.

The past few days in Brooklyn have been amazing: blue skies, bright sun, little humidity, cool evenings...basically everything you want summer to be. Until this morning. I was awakened by the sound of rain around six am and it was the most welcome view out of my window. There is something about rain that allows me to relax and not feel like I need to go anywhere. Granted, I have that luxury as a school teacher on summer vacation. But I've written about this before. Though this particular Monday morning, it was quite nice to have the option to just lay in my bed and let the rain fall, enjoying the fact that I had no where to be. The overcast sky was comforting.

Ironically, I was also motivated to do a lot of the work that I have put off the past few weeks. Somehow when it's nice out, I feel like I am committing a sin if I am not outside in some capacity. I feel guilty and wasteful if I do not take in the full enjoyment of the summer sun that I long for so much throughout the year. Today, I felt motivated to curl up in my living room and do the writing I've been meaning to do, and now I love that I'm in the back of a relatively windowless coffee shop in my neighborhood about to embark on some school related work.

So let it be known. I like cloudy days sometimes.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

It's Young Adult Fiction Day in the New York Times.

Not really, but there were two pretty interesting articles on a couple of the most popular books among my female students:

The Twilight Series
Writer Gail Collins looks at the legacy that Edward Cullen is leaving behind and it's impact on female readers


Gossip Girl
Writer Michael Winerip discusses the "brand placement" in teenage girl series and asks how adults should respond to the consumeristic mentally in such series.

Both are thought provoking and worth the read.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What is currently breaking my heart.


From Gourmet magazine, seen on Abigail Goes Design Scouting

"SMALL THINGS DONE IN GREAT LOVE BRING JOY AND PEACE." ~MOTHER TERESA

“It is perhaps not too much to say that, in the first decade of the new millennium, humanity has entered into a condition that is in some sense more globally united and interconnected, more sensitized to the experiences and suffering of others, in certain respects more spiritually awakened, more conscious of alternative future possibilities and ideals, more capable of collective healing and compassion, and, aided by technological advances in communication media, more able to think, feel, and respond together in a spiritually evolved manner to the world’s swiftly changing realities than has ever before been possible.” -Richard Tarnas

I found this book on my roommate's shelf a few months ago and was immediately intrigued by the title. In my urban life of over-commitment and busyness, Blessed Unrest sounded like the best example of an oxymoron. The subtitle made it so clear, though: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World. This book essentially discusses how the wide variety of social justice and environment groups are bringing about real change...and how we need small groups in all different places to be actively pursuing the health of our planet and its people.

I have long been convinced that so much in this world needs healing and that greed has done so much of the damage that afflicts humanity. Working toward this healing isn't restful, but it is good and blessed. This book challenges some of the accepted realities of the world and of the United States and asks the reader to reconsider his or her thinking. I cannot respond to this book as a whole because it is merely too rich in information...I can only recommend that others read and think about what it addresses.

I am convinced that our country cannot be about the only the financial bottom line--but that we need to figure out how people can be the bottom line and how markets can be a healthy way to support human dignity and what makes life worth living. Below is a list of some of the most thought provoking quotations that I read along the way.

"To those who carp about low wages and poor working conditions in developing countries, free market advocates argue that freedom and prosperity require time and sacrifice. But whose time and whose sacrifice?...The world's top two hundred companies have twice the assets of 80 percent of the world's people." (page 119)

"Why must such groups [that argue, demonstrate and litigate for human rights] operate at the margins of society simply if they believe that social justice and human rights should not be sacrificed when corporations shift their manufacturing to the lowest-wage countries?" (page 126)

"As effective as markets are, they are tools, not reality. Markets make great servants, but bad leaders and ridiculous religions...Trade is not the salient issue; the critical question is: Who sets the rules and who enforces them? There can be no sustainability when institutions whose primary purpose is to create money are dictating the standards." (page 135)

"When small things are done with love it's not a flawed you or me who does them: it's love. I have no faith in any political party, left, right or centrist. I have boundless faith in love. In keeping with this faith, the only spiritually responsible way I know to be a citizen, artist, or activist in these strange times is by giving little or no thought to 'great things' such as saving the planet, achieving world peace, or stopping neocon greed. Great things tend to be undoable things. Whereas small things, lovingly done, are always within our reach." (page 188, quoting Duncan)

So I suppose my closing thought is that change is within our reach--because if we bring this love of humanity into each of our spheres in life--our homes, our friendships, our workplace, our places of worship, our neighborhoods--that is when change will begin to occur. And that is when we will all begin to remember--on micro and macro levels--what makes life valuable, and that it typically has nothing to do with money at the end of the day.

Human Rights Watch
Natural Capital

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Franny.

I'm not going to lie. This picture that my friend Shannon posted on her blog along with the following quotes are what made me most intrigued to read Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger; that and my love of Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories.

"Just because i'm so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else's values, and just because i like applause and people to rave about me doesn't make it right. I'm ashamed of it. I'm sick of it."

"i'm sick of not having the courage to be absolutely nobody."

The novel is grouped into two sections, "Franny" being abour 45 pages and "Zooey" being 150. In the first novella, Franny is on the verge of an emotional breakdown of sorts. She has met her boyfriend Lane for a big Ivy League homecoming game. Lane is very into having the right girl at the right place and being perceived as very intelligent; he calculates his facial expressions to remain elusive. Franny is at a place where she realizes that she may share similar tendencies, but is cognizant enough to know she doesn't want them--but does not know how to communicate that to Lane or herself. It is difficult to watch her continually apologize for herself while simultaneously exhibit physical symptoms of her inner state.

"Zooey" picks up with Franny at her parents' home, and is mostly a conversation between Zooey, her brother, her mother and herself. It continues with a dialogue between the different family members about Franny's state of mind and what to do with her.

Franny's struggle is not unique, though. She has grown up with expectations placed upon her and a certain understanding of what she would do with her life. All of a sudden she has realized that she doesn't necessarily have to do those things or be dictated by them. Such a realization can be life changing or life shattering; both incredibly freeing and confusing. I just think that most people choose the safety of what they know rather than rebuilding a new world view...hence the quotes mentioned above. Her actions is both stories beautifully typify the physical manifestations of this inner tension, and Salinger has really done a brilliant job.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Best Read of 2008 So Far.

I almost feel like to write about this book would trivialize it. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is haunting; it's characters so endearing that they break your heart and his attention to poetic detail about people hard to match. Set in Nazi Germany, the story follows the childhood of Liesel and is based in her learning to read and write and her love of story side by side with the attempted destruction of the human spirit. Death is the creative, omniscient narrator who himself becomes haunted by her story. While collecting the souls of the lost, he comments that not only does he see the worst of humans, but the best and beauty of them and can never quite figure out the contradiction.

I really can't say anymore at this point, except that my train ride this weekend and my arrival at home was filled with sobbing over some of my most favorite characters since Oskar (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Owen (A Prayer for Owen Meany) and Philibert (Hunting and Gathering). Sigh.

I am meeting to talk about this book with some really fabulous people next week, so I may follow up then...(most likely with a rant on why we need to live for what matters and take care of people's souls and really learn from our past), but until then, all I can do is beg you to read it.

Monday, June 30, 2008

ouch.

Every time I leave the city during the warm weather months, I start wondering why I don't live in the middle of a field. or the woods. or maybe somewhere with better access to such things.

a few lines i stumbled upon by Charles Wright that best explain those moments of summer that are ridiculously perfect. please note that there are no buildings nearby:

The heart of the world lies open, leached and ticking with sunlight
For just a minute or so.

sigh. i'm currently missing Ohio, specifically driving on 73.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

how to breathe deeply in brooklyn.

watch the summer storm from your window--
and gape at how diagonal the rain can be
especially since the sun is still out.
while you are remembering how hail forms
decide to not go into the city
and instead go to the park
when the rain is gone but the sinking sun remains.
walk and walk and walk
and listen
to your brooding music
and watch
the children walking on the stone wall
just the way you would've wanted to
if you were eight.
it's a good idea to stop at the litchfield villa
and linger for a little while with the flowers in front
maybe pretending you're in England--
if you're anything like me.
and maybe just stop
and stare into the woods,
leaning on the same stone wall you might want to walk on
and wait to see if it's firefly season yet.
remember a little bit
and imagine that the woods were deep.
smile as you're walking home and see
a little lightning bug
who decided to share the sidewalk with you.
yes. that's about all.

Memory yet again in Contemporary Fiction: Some Ramblings in response

I recently finished Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss. It was a highly anticipated read, as not only was it very critically acclaimed, but she also wrote one of my favorite books I've ever read, The History of Love. Last year I read a lot of books about memory: The Inheritance of Loss, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, and The Memory Keeper's Daughter. This topic is one that never fails to interest me: perhaps because I fear losing the moments of my past that have shaped and influenced me, perhaps because I fear that the places which in a sense define me are slipping further away into the past tense: rather than my drives through fields and the smell of evening air in Ohio, it is becoming the energy of the city and the smell of Brooklyn sidewalks in the summer.

But last weekend I was out on Long Island, visiting the beach on an unbeachy day, and all that is in me that longs for space and tea and quiet swelled up again. So my memories of those places aren't gone, but just dormant. I think? I'm not sure I could survive in the city without remembering country roads and open skies and the hope that I will get to visit them. (Ironically, I'm not sure if I would survive in the suburbs anymore, either...rural, though, perhaps? A character in the book said that she couldn't go back to the suburbs of Cleveland anymore, not in the same way (page 55). That is how life feels...though I guess that happens with time alone, and not just space.) It's not just outdoor space, either. This has been a year of friends moving and things changing and me realizing the impact of having those people and friendships gone from my immediate life. I can deal with the loss ok (sort of!), because I can remember.

Before I turn into a ridiculously cheesy song lyric, let me explain the literary connection. Samson, the main character in Krauss' book loses all of his memory except up until the age of 12. The book examines not only this theme, but of scientific intervention with memory. But what stuck with me the most was the quote: "I know, I know. A little to the left or right and I might not have remembered how to go to the bathroom. I might have existed in some eternal moment, with no memory of the minute that just passed. I might have lost my ability to feel. I'm lucky, sure. What I lost is, in the grand scope of things, almost...negligible ." (page 44)

I'm just not sure that his loss is negligible. His organs and senses are intact, but his entire framework for seeing and dealing with the world is gone. Interestingly enough, he has his memories from childhood--but they end at age 12--about the age of my students. And though they have had life experience, they don't necessarily process through it meaningfully until much later, through the lens of even more life experience. The scientist who works with Samson brings up the idea that memories are a burden to keep (page 89). This is partially true: I am haunted quite often by memories and they can affect an afternoon or more of my life...but they are also a grounding, I think.

There is so much more thinking that needs to be done about this book, but the simplified bottom line is that this book made me very sad. Near the end, Samson describes his state: "He'd surrendered his past for a plot of emptiness." (page 213)

Maybe my reaction is part of the reason why I am such an incessant reflector in life; I just really believe that there is meaning to be made.

Slightly Dr. Seuss-esque, but true.

This morning I had cake
with my breakfast
and tea,
looking at pictures from Capri.
My gut just ached
but not from the cake,
but this longing for quiet and space
and the sea.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Refinishing Attempt.

I've been talking for a while about how I really want to start re-doing furniture...finding treasures for low cost that need a little bit of work and allow me to use some creative power. About a month ago, I literally walked into my reason for starting: two worn but loveable chairs on the sidewalk for free! (This is fairly normal in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. Please don't be skeeved.) So here's what I did:

1. I cleaned, primed and painted the chairs black. (2 hours, $5)
2. I ordered fabric from Repot Depot (15 minutes, $7)
3. I purchased a staple gun! (5 minutes, $16 but reuseable, so I'm not including cost)
4. I purchased staples for the gun (1 minute, 15 cents)
5. I recovered the seats with an under layer of fabric and then the fabric you see. (30 minutes)






TOTAL TIME: 2 hours, 51 minutes
TOTAL COST: $12.15

Monday, June 16, 2008

Vampires, yet again. And Werewolves, too.

If you have read my blog at all in the past six months or so, you already know that I have been sucked into the "ancient grudge" romance between Edward Cullen, one of Forks, Washington's resident vampires and Bella Swan, average teenage girl. In the second book we met Jacob Black, who became Bella's best friend...and also a werewolf. Yes. Needless to say, there was plenty of drama and plenty of action in the third book of this series of four. Will Bella become a vampire herself? What are her feelings toward Jacob? Who will be fighting for their lives? This series is a definite page turner.

And though I loved this book and couldn't put it down, I found that I had some reservations: it was impossible to not read this book through a feminist lens. On one hand, I love the relationship between Edward and Bella. Edward is protective and chivalrous, which I admit I enjoy. He loves Bella for who she is, which is an average looking, average achieving teenager. Points for Edward and author Stephenie Meyer because the current generation of teenagers is under the impression that you have to look like Blake Lively or Mischa Barton to get the guy. But at the same time, Bella doesn't really do much beside go to school and be with Edward...and when she's not with Edward, she's thinking about him. I found that I was really bothered by the fact that she's not involved in anything else.

The other thing that bothers me is that everytime Edward does something that makes Bella angry, Bella forgives him the minute she sees him. Believe me, I'm all about forgiveness, but I'm also about conversation and real relationships where each person can honestly share about how he or she is feeling. It just seemed so horrid when Bella thinks along the lines of : oh, he is beautiful, oh he loves me, I'll just let my issues melt away without sharing them. Yuck. I just wonder what that is teaching the adolescent readers who are obsessed with this series, and of course with Edward (just google his name).

Of course, both Edward and Jacob's love and protection of Bella is admirable and noble, I just with she had a bit more of a life and a voice.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Morning Paper (Online).


My favorite part of the week might be waking up on weekend mornings and reading with some tea. I don't often blog about newspaper articles, but seeing as I am without someone here to discuss them with, I felt compelled to write. (This is similar to me watching Lost alone, and sending out links to articles about each episode. Sorry. Can't help it.) These aren't coherent, per se. It's the beginning of a conversation. With myself. Ha.


The article "The New New City" by Nicolai Ourousoff is about cities like Dubai and Shenzhen that have literally just popped up recently compared with cities that were developed by a combination of historical and cultural events and phases. It is interesting because there seems to be an architectural freedom and creativity, but a lack of cultural inspiration. The cities want everything to be new, but does that harm the city to be without the (beautiful) mess of human cultures? I'm also confused about where on earth the funding for all of this comes from. A really interesting read, especially while living in New York, a city where development can mean something different to everyone. The most interesting quote to me, found at the end of the article: “The amount of building becomes obscene without a blueprint,” Koolhaas said. “Each time you ask yourself, Do you have the right to do this much work on this scale if you don’t have an opinion about what the world should be like? We really feel that. But is there time for a manifesto? I don’t know.”

The article "The Snare of Privilege" by Elizabeth Bumiller was pretty thought provoking, and I mean that it the widest sense: it spurred me to think about a lot of things, so this rant isn't necessarily closely related. It's main tenet is that the majority of high powered politicians come from privileged backgrounds and elite universities, and that they have to connect with the everyman--appear to be trustworthy, likeable, relateable--to be elected president. Bumiller mentions that candidates often play down the privileges that money had afforded them when talking with the those not of similar heritage. What struck me in this article is what wasn't discussed at all. One of the top qualifications that I am looking for in a president is that he/she is brilliant when it comes to history. Obviously, it would be nice if this historical genius was also well-rounded, believed in social justice and protecting the environment and was not corrupted by politics. But seriously. Why aren't the degrees obtained ever discussed--and only the university.

The other part of this discussion that is uncomfortable for me is the whole concept of playing down privilege. Because let's be honest, privilege can be a nice thing, and even though I'm planted firmly in the middle class, I am still ridiculously more privileged than the majority of people on the planet. It's interesting to me because I get so disgusted by wealthy people who spend thousands, millions of dollars on x, y and z when those dollars could be put to such better use. But am I the same as I make my purchases, just on a smaller scale? Do I want to give up the ability to buy or do things that I have grown accustomed to? No. But I want to consider this. I hate social ladders and yet I inhabit a rung. Ugh. The never ending dialogue of my mind.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Summer in the City: A Reading List






Most of my time this summer will be spent here in the city. Since I have the best job ever, I will have lots of TIME to read lots of books! Overly ambitious? Perhaps. But composing this list makes me giddy.








1. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer: This is the third book in the young adult Twilight series that I have been raving about in many previous posts. The fourth and final book comes out in August.

2. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger: How I haven't read this already is beyond me. Period.

3. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: not only do I love hispanic fiction and have been meaning to read GGM for a long time, I am intriged by the genre of magical realism.

4. Before we were Free by Julia Alvarez: A coming of age story set in the Dominican Repubic in 1960.

5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This book I'm reading with my 8th grade ELA team! Death is the narrator in this book set in World War Two era Germany.

6. Sula by Toni Morrison: I'm excited to try to wrap my head around the difficult issues in this book about friendship, rebellion and morals

7. Rape, A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates. Recommended by colleagues as gritty, provocative and thought provoking.

8. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: haven't read Hosseini's follow up to The Kite Runner yet

9. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult: My students love this book and she seems like a good jump from Young Adult Fiction into Adult fiction

Others that are waiting on my bookshelf:

Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Books I want to reread for the sheer joy of it:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
A History of Love by Nicole Krauss
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee