Saturday, October 17, 2009

The House of the Spirits.

Isabel Allende's epic of the Trueba and del Valle families is filled with every provocative theme in literature: love, violence, betrayal, mysticism, wealth, poverty, and politics. My book club picked it in direct response to The Savage Detectives, whose author Roberto Bolano detested Allende along with the established canon of Latin American literature.

Stylistically and developmentally, they couldn't be more different. The thread that runs through both of them is a desire to have life restored to what we (first person plural because I think that this is in all of us to some degree) feel it should be: beautiful. The following passages serve almost as a call to action from Allende's voice herself: to tell the the stories that need to be told and to search for beauty in the broken. First:

"Cement walls were erected to hide the most unsightly shantytowns from the eyes of tourists and others who preferred not to see them. In a single night, as if by magic, beautifully pruned gardens and flowerbeds appeared on the avenues; they had been planted by the unemployed, to create the illusion of a peaceful spring."

This creating of an illusion is present in the smallest of ways in our lives like not admitting to failure, or being more concerned with image rather than person and not wanting to get mixed up with other people's messes. And in the largest: gated communities, displacement of people in the name of development, serving those with the most money to throw at the economy. I want to be a person who prefers to see the messes and know the people. Living in illusion to truth seems more dangerous than the other way around.

And second:
"Clara also brought the saving idea of writing in her mind, without paper or pencil, to keep her [Alba's] thoughts occupied and to escape from the doghouse and live. She suggested that she write a testimony that might one day call attention to the terrible secret she was living through, so that the world would know about this horror that was taking place parallel to the peaceful existence of those who did not want to know, who could afford the illusion of a normal life, and of those who could deny that they were on a raft adrift in a sea of sorrow, ignoring, despite all evidence, that only blocks away from their happy world there were others, these others who live or die on the dark side."

If we are to break down the illusion, we need books and art and music that are courageous enough to tell the story of the mess of humanity. And people who are not scared to steep in these stories for a while and be changed.

And I think that if we start letting grace seep into our own messes and of those closest to us, we'd be a step closer to abandoning the illusion and finding beauty and hope in the broken?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

anne shirley, you're my hero.

I joined a writing group and ever since have been absent from my blog. Ha. This is slightly ironic. But, my focus for the group has been fiction which I haven't seriously attempting since my junior year creative writing class at Miami, so due to my quasi ineptitude of writing a story and the craziness of the fall, I have been absent. But this kind of writing feels like home, so on day two of a three day weekend, here I am. I may have a few posts today.

Back in June I wrote about the opening reading assignment we're doing with the 8th graders: to reread a childhood favorite with new eyes, and to ultimately write "an appreciation" for the book. This idea was inspired by the redesigned children's classics by Penguin (see previous post for the link), which include an "appreciation" by a modern author (seriously gorgeous: I highly recommend checking them out).

This is my appreciation in honor of Anne:

Anne of Green Gables is a marker of lifelong friendships for me. I have been lucky enough to always have amazing friendships in my life and to have known Anne since age 8, but I didn’t know true kindred spirits until I was nearly twenty and met three girls who embodied not only the love of Anne, but the characteristics that make her so, well Anne: a longing for adventure, a lover of beauty, a desire to be completely moved to the core and an inescapable ridiculousness. These are girls whose friendship has spanned nearly ten years, four cities and two coasts, but we are able to pick up immediately where we left off.

I moved to New York City right after college with three great guy friends from Ohio, without a kindred spirit in sight. I spent many evenings as “one of the guys” but I can vividly place myself on the patio of Rudy’s in midtown (think duct tape seats and free hot dogs) with them and a girl I had just met. We realized we had similar stories prior to moving to New York and then in a burst of energy we both asked the other if she loved Anne . It was over. One of my best, best friends. Another time, I was introduced on the subway platform to a girl who had recently moved to the city. I kid you not, we found out within minutes that we were both lovers of Anne and were literally jumping up and down, much to the disturbance and confusion of those around us. But. Kindred spirits are one of the dearest parts of life, as Anne knows, and cause for celebration.

It’s difficult to name the enchantment that was placed over all of us that would continue to impact our lives well into adulthood and cause us all to return to her story on a regular basis. Anne chased adventure and the beautiful, got lost in her wanderings and loved learning. Anne is the perfectly imperfect heroine; the best kind. Her excitement for life was contagious and her theatrics and exaggeration wildly entertaining. Anne is smart, determined, stubborn, loyal, passionate. Not only that, but she gave name to what I didn’t know other people felt:

“Pretty? Oh pretty doesn’t seem the right word to use. Nor beautiful, either. They don’t go far enough. Oh it was wonderful-wonderful…it made a queer funny ache and yet it was a pleasant ache. Did you ever have an ache like that, Mr. Cuthbert?”

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill—several thrills? I’m going to decorate my room with them.”

I thought for a long time that finding a character who experiences the world in the same way I do was enough. But. C.S. says: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”.To find someone who loves those same things…sigh. Anne was that person for me and gave me the word for others: kindred spirits.

I reread this book almost every year not only to transport me back to my own childhood and the early 1900’s Prince Edward Island (a time period and setting completely romanticized in my mind) but becauseAnne reminds me of my need to frolic: something that gets lost in my city life sometimes (save for the fall, when I, too am so moved by the trees on fire). It reminds me of my carefree days spent in the woods with flowers in my hair; days that need to be remembered as I sometimes bury myself in my to do lists. I need regular reminders to soak in small beauties and to “dust off my ambitions.” Anne reminds me of the things I love the most: my family, my friends and the tiny things in the world that make my heart soar that are easy to miss if you’re not looking.

As a teacher, I live my life closely watching children become young adults. I really believe that Anne and characters like her are the best guides into adulthood: strong, young women who do not take a backseat in adventuring, learning, imagination. Young women who do not feel entitled, but who work toward their goals and dreams. Young women who know that wealth and prestige are not the makers of happiness.

“We are rich,” said Anne staunchly. “Why, we have sixteen years to our credit, we’re happy as queens, and we’ve all got our imaginations, more or less.”


Sidenote: Well designed book covers are a joy of life.

For some reason, blogger won't let me post pictures anymore, so you'll have to go to this link and look at Penguin's Great Ideas series: I love the design for all four series and think I may start collecting them.

Also. Puffin relaunched children's classics with gorgeous covers and they are only $5!

These. I swoon over.