Monday, May 22, 2017

one more role model

"choose enrichment"

Frustration Enrichment

Enrichment programs for zoo animals often involve toys that  basically create frustration---like the old Halloween game of trying to bite an apple hanging on a string, with your hands behind your back.


Isn't it funny how our brains need that: if it's done by choice it's a fun game, or at any rate, somehow enriching.
But if it's imposed, or too hard (or too boring!), accompanied by shame and failure, it can just be torture. Similarly, anxiety and excitement are physiologically related, but feel entirely different psychologically.

I'm thinking as I gear up to hunt for a job,
How can I approach it as if I were a parrot facing a gift-wrapped goodie?

Job Hunting

Yes, I haven't been.
I've been skirting around job hunting itself, though I did write my comprehensive resumé: 
All these things that I've done [song < I like this low-key UK video best].

Anyway, this morning I'm checking job sites and found this job title at the U that made me laugh:
Manager of Space Management (Space)


Nike's old ad using "All these things" is still one of the best commercials (and more thought-provoking than originally intended, given who they included in 2008).



Would I like a job putting this sort of thing together? 
Maybe, but I don't want to work in advertising or marketing. 

back to looking...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

"Wake me up before you go…"

"…Or,  A Somewhat Cheering Statistic for People Like Me Who Frequent Coffee Shops"

Lately I've been thinking about my mother's suicide (fourteen years ago). 
[So, you know--trigger warning: suicide]

Up until she reached the age I am now (fifty-six), my mother was often doing OK for long stretches, but her last dozen years went almost all downhill. So I'm on my own from here on out, so far as having a mother modeling how to effectively "choose life"* is concerned. 
[George Michael; see footnote]

Of course lots of us have lost our mothers by this age and have to carry on alone (or maybe never had mothers who gave good guidance to begin with)
Still, suicide is its own peculiar thing, so I've been reading a bit about it--something I rarely do because it feels like being pinned under massive weightlifting plates--but I felt it might be helpful, and sure enough, I read something really encouraging to me.

Studies show that people are the least likely to commit suicide if they live in highly sociable cultures that value extended family, friends, and community--those "blue zone" places that report high rates of happiness, like Okinawa.

I always find that discouraging, because I don't live in such a culture, nor have I created one for myself.

But then I read that New York City, where a very high percentage of people live alone by themselves, has the lowest percentage of suicides in the United States. (Or one of the lowest--don't quote me on this--I don't even want to look it up because I am at my quota of reading about suicide for the day.) NYC has around half the suicide rate of the sparsely populated western US states, which have the nation's highest percentages of suicides.

It seems maybe you don't need close, loving relationships to hold you up,  you just need the presence of other people.

This is cheering to me, because that's how I live:
I love being around familiar strangers. 

I regularly go to a couple nearby coffee shops where I recognize other people. I don't like it if too many people start to know me--I actually stopped going to a coffee shop when I started having full-on conversations there. It's funny because of course I started it, being a pretty chatty-friendly type, but it began to feel like social pressure. I don't want all that,
 I just want to hear the hum of humanity around me. 

And there are other models besides mothers of how to choose life.
_______________
 * "Choose Life"
Like the George Michael T-shirt (in video below). 
I suppose it came from Deuteronomy 30:19? "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life." However…
"Michael’s trademark “CHOOSE LIFE” T-shirt — a work of [pro-choice] political-firebrand-cum-designer Katharine Hamnett — wasn’t intended to be an antiabortion statement. Rather, it was a willful call to hope in the face of daunting odds.
"As a precursor to the then-nascent boy band era, Wham! wasn’t really expected to get involved in the fight, but it did anyway. The duo played a gig at a benefit for striking miners, a hugely and surprisingly political move from a band at the peak of its fame.
In 2016, it’s easy to see these things as relics of a bygone era, but they stuck out in his late-1980s heyday, too. In the throes of a Britain sharply divided over Thatcherism, Michael’s brand of optimistic pop sounded naive, even ignorant.
Time would reveal that it was actually brave."
--"George Michael wrote buoyant, wise pop music for a society divided by intolerance and anxiety," Washington Post, December 27 2016]
I love this song.




_________________
For info or help if you or someone you know is struggling:
http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/# 
or
Call 1-800-273-8255

"The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals." Outside of the United States, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

"asternot"

"Asternot", by me, aged five or six (1966-67)
I love that this crayon drawing represents me in my father's house--he has it taped up on a bookshelf. [photo by my sister]


Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Fresca Enrichment Program

I've been low the last few weeks since finishing editing my book---not feeling bad, exactly, it's more that I feel OK, just very, very listless.

Some of this is the natural low ebb that follows the completion of a huge project, some is a deer-in-the-headlight response to the need to start job-hunting (ohgod), and some no doubt is a response to watching the president of my country act like an out-of-control toddler with a weapon.

My energy is starting to return on its own, but I could use a boost, so I am thinking of myself as a zoo animal that needs an enrichment program designed for it--by thinking of myself as if I were outside myself, I can better help myself. 

One thing I'm doing is looking for little things I could do, as a tiny perk-up.
Trying something new, for instance:
today I bought a ripe papaya that was on sale ($1!) at Good Grocer, the non-profit, volunteer-enabled grocery store where I volunteer (I don't think I've mentioned that here yet).

They're so hefty and gorgegous, I'd been meaning to try one for months, and now finally I have:

I'd expected it to taste like a mango, but it's nowhere near as sweet --more like a vegetable--and its flavor is a little odd, like …a bland cheese?

Reminds me of the first time I ate cilantro: I'd thought its musky taste was unpleasant--now I love it. This fruit is huge--about four pounds--so I'll get a chance to get used to it on its own terms, not as what it's not.
Anyway, I found it interesting, and that's a sign of life.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Six Days Left Till Towel Day

Towel Day is the annual celebration on May 25 of author Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On that day, fans around the universe carry a towel in his honor, and do other things.
I wish I could be in Helsinki, Finland, for instance, where "
Douglas Adams fans will meet at Pub Angleterre, from 18:00 to 22:00, sipping beer and consuming peanuts. They will read Vogon-poetry in Finnish for everybody even if they did not ask for it. Also they will try to contact other Towel Day parties over the world and also low passing spacecrafts. "

I posted this for Towel Day a few years ago but am always happy to revisit the captain and his towel.

Books I'm Reading



1. Even More Bad Parenting Advice---cartoons by Guy DeLisle---pretty good but I liked his graphic memoirs about working abroad as a cartoonist better than his chronicles of being a parent:
I highly recommend his Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea:


[Hm. ^ How topical...]

2. The Sound of Gravel (2016)--- 
Ruth Wariner's memoir of growing up in a polygamous Mormon community in Mexico, where women play a role much like breeding livestock--her story is like a fascinating, scary, real-life Handmaid's Tale. Wariner got herself and her little sisters out, and they're all doing well today, so besides being horrific, it's an inspiring tribute to human resilience too.

3. Zone One, by Colson Whitehead
Disappointing. I like zombie apocalypse tales, but this one was all clogged up with literary writing, which annoyed me greatly.

I am entirely on the side of the made-up "disgruntled" readers in this super enragingly condescending review in the NYT.
I must indeed be "entirely beyond the beguilements of art" because I STOPPED READING THE BOOK before I could be forced "to see the strangeness of the familiar and the familiarity of the strange" (oh boy, like I never have before):
Colson Whitehead is a literary novelist, but his latest book, “Zone One,” features zombies, which means horror fans and gore gourmands will soon have him on their radar. He has my sympathy. I can see the disgruntled reviews on Amazon already: “I don’t get it. This book’s supposed to be about zombies, but the author spends pages and pages talking about all this other stuff I’m not interested in.” Broad-spectrum marketing will attract readers for whom having to look up “cathected” or “brisant” isn’t just an irritant but a moral affront. These readers will huff and writhe and swear their way through (if they make it through) and feel betrayed and outraged and migrained. But unless they’re entirely beyond the beguilements of art they will also feel fruitfully disturbed, because “Zone One” will have forced them, whether they signed up for it or not, to see the strangeness of the familiar and the familiarity of the strange.
Oh, please.
If anyone ever wonders why people feel liberal elites are condescending, there ^ you have it.

4. The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, James Rebank 
I picked this up because my auntie has taken up spinning and now e-mails me about different sheep breeds and their wool.
Rebank is from a family of shepherds in the Lake District of England, where you still have to rely on your feet and your dogs, a family who breed Herdwicks, the same hardy sheep Beatrix Potter raised. 

I liked it a lot and recommend it as a good read, sheep aside, about ... um, well, about living a physical life, in a physical place.  
I didn't much like Rebank himself, but I liked his writing: it's not in the least bit romantic or purple, thankgod––I never rolled my eyes at any overwrought bits, like I did reading H Is for Hawk––and yet the story pulses like the heartbeat in a man's neck, wet with cold rain and spattered with grit--not metaphorically, but because he's out in the muddy fields in the rain, wrestling a sheep.

The sheep is not cathected with grief at the loss of traditional ways of life, it's just a muddy sheep. (OK, and also, yes, a symbol of Things We Stand to Lose.)

Enriched

I spent a long time last night looking at photos of zoo animal enrichment activities--what a great job, thinking up ways to keep animals happy. Reminds me of when I worked in Memory Care--or even just daily life---how to keep active and engaged?

A few of my favorite photos:

But bubbles? Capybara don't care:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Sea Otter Enrichment

Dream job: Enriched-Play Facilitator, Otter Division

The zoo keeper is giving a piece of heart-shaped ice to this sea otter. I don't know why, but then the sea otter swims around on its back, carrying the ice on its tummy--I guess it likes it. 
I feel enriched too.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Key to "Baby's First Resist-story"

A friend requested the background for some of the illustrations bink & I made, so I wrote up a key: 
if you want to read our thinking behind the images, you'll find a tab to the key along the top bar of this blog, or click:
Key to "Baby's First Resist-story
"


You can share the key code with our Russian friends, or anyone! 

If you see anything else in any of the images, I'd be happy to hear.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

It's Up! Baby's First Resist/story

It took bink & me almost the first 100 Days of Trump-time to make our handmade wash-away illustrations for Baby's First Resist/story--and we're already collecting ABC words for a possible next one (using a less time-consuming media). 
N for Nixonian?

I like it best as a Xeroxed zine, but it cost too much (for unemployed me) to print and mail them, so it's up online on Issuu, which lets you turn the pages, like reading a real paper zine.
Click here to see it:
https://issuu.com/babysfirstresist-story/docs/resist_pdf_best

It'll look like this screencap, below, (there'll be an > arrow to advance and a + to enlarge)
If you'd like to read about the illustrations, go to the tab along top bar of this blog "Key to Baby's First Resist-story" or click: 
gugeo.blogspot.com/p/key-to-babys-first-resist-story.html

Monday, May 15, 2017

What I'm Reading

No time to write mini-reviews of these... just plunking the photo in, in my ongoing [failing] effort to keep a record of what I read.

What I'm [Going to Be] Reading (mostly by women)

The library let me know the recently published books that I'd requested had come in (since my lists of women writers had showed me my that lots of my reading is pre-2001)--I read the first page of each before I checked them out and only put one back (Swamplandia--too magic-cute: young girl runs amusement park with 89 alligators?--I've never liked Pippi Longstockingish tales).

The author of An Unnecessary Woman is a man, Rabih Alameddine, but I'm not being strict about this--just wanting to look in on the modern crop. 

Oh, Margaret Walker's Jubilee is from 1966, but I got it because the main character is said to "rival Scarlett O'Hara". And Two Old Women by Velma Wallis is from 1994, but it's set in the Yukon, like Due South, so....



1. Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend Of Betrayal, Courage And Survival, 1993, novel by Velma Wallis
2.  Wench, 2010, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
3. The Woman Upstairs, 2013, by Claire Messud 
4. Jubilee, Margaret Walker, 1966 
5.  An Unnecessary Woman, 2013, Rabih Alameddine
6. Americanah, 2014, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
7. Untwine, 2015, Edwidge Danticat

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Guillermo Del Toro's Bunny

I was disappointed with the museum exhibit of stuff from film director Guillermo Del Toro's house--they had selected mostly fine art, leather books, and professional film–related stuff, and not the any of the cheap-o toys that you get a glimpse of behind GDT in the 2-minute video, in which he said he saves everything. 
(Del Toro made Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, etc.)

 The closest was this bunny-rabbit candlestick holder. Photo by bink:

You know I like toys. Otherwise, the best things in the exhibit were GDT's sketch- and notebooks--I wish they sold facsimiles:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Eleven More Inspiring Works by Women Writers

(I'm writing up these "books by women" pretty quickly, so these mini-mentions of writings that I've found important, inspiring, or just likable are a mere slap-and-a-dash--but so fun to put together. And more to come…)

1. Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm (1932)

I started with the wonderful film adaptation (1995, starring half of everyone British & good), but I read the book too––the hilarious send-up of gothic-y/country romances––about an eminently sensible young woman, Flora Poste, who descends upon her wacko rural relatives to clean up their lives, asking such sensible questions as, Is there "something nasty in the woodshed," or do you just need a nice holiday abroad?


Above: Seth Starkadder (Rufus Sewell) and Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale)

2. Speaking of funny, can I say Elaine May?
I'm saying Elaine May. She "wrote" (is that the right term? created the words of, anyway) some of the funniest improv I know, with Mike Nichols, performing as Nichols and May.
And the charming 1978 screenplay for Heaven Can Wait, and the excellent and unfairly maligned Ishtar (R Brody's defense of it).

3. Annie Proulx, her very not funny short story, "Brokeback Mountain" 
Here's a piece I really would include for the inspiration of the author's writing in itself, separate from the story--for her depiction especially of the weather as a force, which is mirrored by the character's desire.
No kidding, go through the story and search for "wind".
The way that short story opens with the wind battering Ennis's trailer is a marvel:
"Ennis Del Mar wakes before five, wind rocking the trailer, hissing in around the aluminum door and window frames. The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in a draft."
We'll see his shirts again...

4. Penelope Lively, Passing On (1989)
What to do with freedom? Middle-aged Helen has lived all her life with her brother and their controlling mother, who had died right before the novel opens. I love this book for Helen's tiny, heroic movements toward having a life.

5. Joan Didion, Salvador (1982)
Didion reports from El Salvador during the Civil War-- the scene where she thinks she's being followed  by a Jeep Cherokee, the trucks the government death squads drove (I think that's the brand name) is the most frightening thing I've read.
"Terror is the given of the place." 

6. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963)
I did read the whole thing--fascinating--but mostly what I remember from it is the most famous and incredibly important bit about the "banality of evil"---incredibly important because if we think evil is going to come with clear and nasty markings, we're missing how it's sitting in the desk chair right next to us... as well as within us.
"Eichmann’s astounding willingness, both in Argentina and in Jerusalem, to admit his crimes was due less to his own criminal capacity for self-deception than to the aura of systematic mendacity that had constituted the general, and generally accepted, atmosphere of the Third Reich. "Of course” he had played a role in the extermination of the Jews; of course if he “had not transported them, they would not have been delivered to the butcher.” He went on to ask, “What is there to ‘admit’?” "
--here, in the New Yorker

7. Madeleine L'Engle A Wrinkle in Time
Space can fold up! So cool! This introduced me to the idea that physics can be understandable, and fun!
  
8. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale 
One day you go to get cash out of the ATM, and it won't give it to you. It would be just that easy for Powers That Be to take control of your life. Popular again in the Age of Trump, and you can see why.

9.  Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn: Poems (1978)

On the wisdom of speaking up, because, after all,
"we were never meant to survive"

10. Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle (1973)

Historically important for being about a young woman coming into her own as a lesbian---harder, then--but it's also about the making of an artist--in the protagonist's case, a filmmaker

11. Marguerite Duras, Moderato Cantabile (France, 1958)

For the smothering feeling of living life in forced moderation.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"Let's Go to Space"

Belated---maybe my favorite poster that I saw at the Science March last month. I think it was painted on cardboard. love it so much, I wish I could own it.



Also, from Somewhere on the Internet, another Leia.
The Science March was more hard-science Star Trek [examples of Trek signs] than fantasy Star Wars, but Leia was there too--she really seems to be holding as the Resistance icon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Happify of the City (Peaches)

My friend Julia [happify] is my favorite photographer of the City.
Here, peaches she shared with me and her father, when I spent the afternoon with them at the co-op's new seating area.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Writings by Women (Reading in My Life), IV

So, I see that this list of Writing by Women has turned into something of a Personal Life Review: The Reading of My Life.

I certainly wouldn't recommend without reservations Gone with the Wind, for instance, but it did impact me when I was thirteen in 1974. (I tried to read it recently and couldn't stand it.)

Also, they're mostly all works of fiction from before 2000, when I stopped reading so much fiction, which is all I ever read before. I started to work in nonfiction publishing for teens in 2001, and I needed to read a lot more nonfiction, but I also started to prefer it, which is a classic mid-life change of taste.

To catch up a bit, I just requested from the library a bunch of more current novels by women, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Edwidge Danticat and others from the list of 100 Books by Black Women.
I don't have much patience for novels these days though---should probably look for more nonfiction by women.

Back to my list...

I. Alice Walker: Meridian (1976) and The Color Purple (1982)

I read these two novels around the time they came out, when I was fifteen and twenty-one years old.

Looking back, I suppose they served as a sort of antidote to GWTW. Not that I hadn't seen how racist GWTW was even when I was thirteen, but I hadn't read much about black women by black women before Alice Walker.

Before that, I'd read Maya Angelou's memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), and the famous play A Raisin in the Sun (1959) by Lorraine Hansberry, both of which I'd read in an elective high school class, Minority Literature. But mostly I'd read black men––Richard Wright's Black Boy, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

There was Toni Morrison, of course (The Bluest Eye, 1970, Sula, 1973)--but when I was young, Morrison baffled me, while Walker's stories were much easier to read…and had happier endings.

And here's the thing, as those of you who were there remember:

African American women writers (especially novelists) weren't much published before the 1970s, or they were republished in that era with the rise of feminist publishing, so then I read Zora Neale Hurston, for instance, along with new writers, such as Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1976).

Also: typewriters! Here's Walker (b. 1944) at work:


As I mentioned, I've been editing the Wikipedia entry for Toni Morrison, (done for now, but had some back-and-forth yesterday with fellow wiki-editors who rightly questioned one of my subheadings---it's cool how that system really works!), and it's been a trip to my own past--the 1970s (when Morrison was first published and was working as an editor who published other black women) being a wild ride for women and feminism...

Sometimes I hear people saying nothing's changed, but when I remember what there was even available in print to read, I can't agree.

Yeah, so, for the purpose of this list, I chose Walker as most influential on and inspiring to me when I was young (haven't read her since)--and not primarily because her novels educated this white girl about race, though they did, but because I LIKED reading them and took strength and encouragement from them that I could live an independent life--back to that theme of creating one's own authentic life.

One more book today:

II. Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Aren't the Only Fruit (1985)

Along those lines, there wasn't anything much, and certainly not with happy endings, about lesbian women before, say, Rubyfruit Jungle (in an earlier list--pretty outdated now, I'd say). But the thing with Oranges is that it's a book I'd happily reread--in fact, I did last year, and enjoyed it all over again. It's a funny look at the horrors of childhood, and sexuality is just part of of it.

My favorite bit is when the girl makes a diorama for school. While other children make fluffy Easter scenes inside shoe boxes, she, the daughter of a disturbed evangelical mother, creates an apocalyptic scene in miniature.

My parents weren't religious, but I had a mother who put her unmet longings into my Halloween costumes--one year I was  Parisian street sweeper, wearing one of their real blue uniform jackets my mother had hunted down in Paris, and carrying the fireplace broom...

Did I mind?
Well, kinda---I remember looking with longing at the boxed Halloween costumes at K-Mart, but as Winterson catches so well, while you may dislike feeling weird among your peers, your parents claim your instinctive loyalty when you're little, even if they send you out in the world dressed in their delusions...



Some of the covers of the novel [via]:

. . . And now I am going to work on my resumé--I met with a job coach yesterday who inspired me to get going on that. I am too prone to being passive when I need to act, so... to work!

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Thing with Feathers



"Hope" was the theme of the Arts & Crafts Resistance get-together this morning. 

I lettered a quote from a poem by Emily Dickinson that I don't like:
"Hope is the thing with feathers."


The only thing for that poem is if she was twelve when she wrote it. (I don't know--maybe she was.) Nevertheless, I had this idea to paint a hand holding a quill pen in the act of writing "Write to Congress" at the bottom of the page
––ha-ha, get it? aren't I clever, it's a feather.
The whole thing was a mess, and stupid-looking. Serves me right.

Afterward bink, Maura and I went to an open house at the art studio/museum House of Balls, for Atlas Obscura Day, where, as it so happens, the artist, Allen Christian, who sculpts found objects (including bowling balls), had set up copper wires and old badminton shuttlecocks made with real feathers, outside on a long table, with sample examples of flowers visitors could make out of them...
AND, an electric drill!!!
OMG! I want one! How have I lived so long without one?

I made the toys & spaceship thingie you see above, which made me really happy, and when I got home, I cut out the words of the poem I'd painted, and, there you go:
long way around, Despair Management strikes again.

I made my feather toys before I even went inside to look at the art. I was happy to see a lot of it has faces too.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

17 More Works by Women Writers, (Some Inspiring), III

NOTE: I'm not going to claim all these writers and their works as "inspiring" because that sounds too much like full-on glowing endorsement, and some of these are problematic (looking at you, Margaret Mitchell), but I would never say that means they should be banned--race, class and sex get all mixed up, sometimes in ugly ways, but trying to attain ideological purity in reading or writing (or anywhere!) just breeds more monsters.

1. Lynda Barry, anything by this cartoonist, including her more recent books on making art
 

A favorite author who gets the anarchic and vulnerable state of childhood, especially girlhood, right with her character Marlys in Ernie Pook's Comeek
Here's the author and Marlys in 2007. I relate strongly to this.
via
_______
2. Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You, etc.

 an American Buddhist whose wry search for "don't-kid-yourself" awareness has been an important guide to me.

3. Beatrix Potter, The Tailor of Gloucester
Mice rescue a kind tailor from disaster by finishing sewing the details on an important waistcoat (for a powerful client) when he is ill. Huh. Another story about powerless creators---both the mice and the tailor--achieving an under-the-radar victory.

4. S. E. Hinton, The Outsiders
"Stay gold, Pony Boy!" I didn't know this is a thing until I saw this scene (on youtube) in Ben Stiller's movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which I liked a lot.

5. Molly Ivins!
I miss her all the time in this era of the Insane #45


6. Janet Frame
More her as depicted in the movie Angel at My Table (1990, New Zealand, dir. Jane Campion) which I recommend, than her actual writings, though I did read her autobiography the movie's based on--about her life as a writer against crazy odds--and I also like the kindness of the writer who let her come live in his shed... (I forget his name--ah, just looked it up: Frank Sargeson).
Not this camper, but this is Janet Frame (adult)
 
7. Sheenah Pugh, the poem "Sometimes" (sometimes things don't go from bad to worse!), and The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context --writing as a writer about fanfic as writing, not a social or psychological phenomenon (or aberation)--an inspiration for my fandom book, in fact.

8. Buchi Emecheta
I think I read every novel by this Nigerian-born English writer that was out back in the '90s, because 
#1 they are good stories
and, #2, being about the experience of African women in England, they are also interesting stories, which, while told without a political agenda, become political simply by being honest.
She just died this year (2017) and I read this quote from her in her obit in the Guardian:
“Apart from telling stories, I don’t have a particular mission. I like to tell the world our part of the story while using the voices of women.”

And, from "Ama Ata Aidoo, one of the few African women to have been writing internationally since the 1960s, and who taught Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood in a course on African women’s literature, said: 'Buchi Emecheta was expert at cutting through mush.'"


9. Rose Macaulay, Towers of Trebizond (1956)< Re-released with this great cover 

For personal reasons: 
it's about a English woman pondering Catholic (or was it Anglican?) theology and her love affair with a married man while she travels around Turkey with her eccentric Aunt Dot--who delivers the famous first line,
"'Take my camel dear
,' said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass."
--personal because given to me by the married English man I was having a love affair with (the professor for whom I wrote a paper on the Holy Trinity), after I got baptized and went to Turkey in 1998---I encountered no camels, but otherwise this book weirdly fit my life---very meta! 
(So weirdly.)
But also, it's a good, odd, (and in parts v. flawed) read, as I recall, although, full disclosure: I haven't read it since.

10. Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness
About finding her spiritual and intellectual life in being a scholar, after leaving the convent she had entered as a teenager. Sometimes we take a dead end, for a horribly long time, and have to back up and try again...

11. Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes (1926)
Like Fludd, another novel that asks if making a deal with the devil might not be a better deal for a woman than Fitting In.

From Helen Macdonald's mention in "By the Book" (New York Times): (H.M. wrote H Is for Hawk, which many people but not me loved):
“[The book] I’ll be pressing into people’s hands forever is “Lolly Willowes,” the 1926 novel by Sylvia Townsend Warner. It tells the story of a woman who rejects the life that society has fixed for her in favor of freedom and the most unexpected of alliances. It completely blindsided me: Starting as a straightforward, albeit beautifully written family saga, it tips suddenly into extraordinary, lucid wildness.” 

12. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie books

 Not my favorite books as a child--they were my sister's--but I read them several times growing up (sometimes when I had to stay home sick), and if nothing else, they were good for showing what life on the frontier was like for white folk (and the concept that "the frontier" used to be Wisconsin!)--stuff like how they made their own soap, and an orange was an exciting Christmas present---
and most especially I would recommend The Long Winter, which scared the bejeezus out of me, depicting how they all almost froze and starved to death one bad winter when they ran out of food and fuel and had to resort to grinding the seed corn in their coffee grinder and twisting straw into tight bundles so it would burn longer.

13. Carol Ryrie Brink, Caddie Woodlawn (1935)
Also about a tomboy girl growing up in Wisconsin, I liked this much better than Little House books but, not having read it since I was a kid, I don't remember it very well---and it's far less well-known. Why? (Not made into a TV show? Problematic depictions of Native Americans?) I should re read this and see.


14. Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire (1976)

Heh. Before there was Twilight, there was this---I loved this erotic, slashy novel when I was in high school. Tried to read it again a few years ago and couldn't get past page 1, but I include it here as one of my teenage loves.

15. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Also a favorite childhood book. While I now find this disturbing in its benevolent, paternalistic form of racism 
[noble white man helps grateful black folk (who get shot by police, anyway, but the white readers like me who identify with Atticus, are Good white folk who get off the hook--uh..., no, the reality is a lot more complicated than that)], 
I loved it as a girl and would credit it with being a ... sort of bridge in my life toward realizing racism is a lot more complex than that.
* * * And also, the movie version of Scout is one of the best girls in all of film history, and for that alone I still love and owe it.


16. Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
Another weird, very problematic one---even as a kid I saw the book's disgusting racism: "Slavery wasn't so bad--we were always nice to ours," like if you treat people like you'd treat pets, well, heck, what's the problem? (Though actually, I have some problem with the system of pet ownership too.)

I do credit this book with showing me something crucial about history: it has waaay more than one side. 
Growing up as a Northerner, I never heard (and still never hear) any other narrative about the Civil War other than we were The Good Guys, and the white South was Bad, All Bad.
While Trump is insane, and his recent pronouncements about Andrew Jackson are icky, icky, icky (the current president of the United States worshiping at the grave of a genocidal leader is disturbing)---for his own bad reasons, he also inadvertently asks a good question: could the Civil War have been handled differently?

Also, again, like Mockingbird, the way a good character (not morally good--I mean, Scarlett is complex, alive) is wrapped in racism, like cantaloupe in bacon, is a shame: 
like Scout, the character Scarlett is a rare depiction of a complicated woman who is trying (because circumstances force her) to be strong and independent (even if that means she resorts to near-evil), without being able to rely on men, and the way Vivien Leigh played her is pretty great. 

17. Jane Gardam, Crusoe's Daughter (and all the others)

Gardam is one of my favorite authors, only discovered a couple years ago. Like so many novels I love, (I'm seeing in writing these lists of inspiring books), this is another one about a woman trying to live an authentic life---to become the Author of Her Own Life, like David Copperfield does--with few resources and even less social support than he has. 

I mean, David has to overcome impossible odds of poverty and cruelty, yes, and he has to shape himself into being a writer, and I love him for all that, but once he does that, he has the social supports of being an English gentleman and as an adult, he doesn't have to overcome even more social impediments.
Unlike his sort-of twin in childhood, Little Emily---whose life is indeed "little" in so many ways, and mirrors his--where he triumphs, she is destroyed. (Though she's partially redeemed in the deus ex machina of the novel's ending---Dickens whisks all the problematic Good characters off to Australia, where they flourish... Yeah. Whatever.)

When I re-read Copperfield recently, I saw that this childhood love of David's, Emily, as the orphan child of fisher folk, stands NO chance of becoming a lady, which she had told boy-David is her dream--and she wants to be a lady partly so she can take care of the uncle who raised her and replace their fishy old boat-house with a fine house.

But the social reality is that the best she, a bright, ambitious, beautiful girl, can do--and which, with a disgustingly patronizing attitude, David thinks she SHOULD do-- is to settle for marrying her rather simple-minded but devoted cousin, Ham, who she grew up with, and stay smelling like fish all her life:
(besides the claustrophobia-- physical, social, and psychological-- of this marriage, it also feels disturbingly incestuous to this modern reader). 

Instead she makes the tragic mistake of trusting and falling for the charming narcissist, Steerforth, who David introduces her to--David having made the same mistake of loving Steerforth and being unable to see how untrustworthy S. is--Emily is sort of David's sexual alter ego?---but he doesn't pay the ultimate price: Emily and her family do that. And that whole thing is one of the only honest psychological portraits in the otherwise rather smarmily simplistic book.

Emily's fate makes me appreciate Scarlett O'Hara for saying, "Oh, hell no! If the system is going to screw me, I'll screw it more."  

P.S.
Was I clear about Gone with the Wind and how it had an impact on 13-year-old me?
I fear I was not.


What I meant was, when
some dozen years ago I read George Lakoff* on "Framing",  [youtube talk], I recognized his ideas about framing ideas & political discourse from reading GWTW:
people don't live in facts, we live in STORIES.


And the stories we tell ourselves (and one another) frame events---
its like, if you put a huge gold frame around a wedding photo and put it up over the mantle, you have dignified it;
and if you just shove that same photo in a lift-up-the-plastic-sheeting photo album and stick it in the closet, you have demoted it, even if it's exactly the Same Event, it now has a different story, and therefore it is different.

Ditto race and the Civil War and everything else.

Those who control the FRAME, control the story (at least in part), which controls... well, lots of everything (feelings, upon which we base actions, etc.).

My point is, I, me, a Northerner, learned from reading GWTW that some Southern whites live in an entirely different story, one in which they fought a tragic, losing, unwanted war for a genteel way of life...

It is almost pointless to debate facts or statistics or anything else with folks when/if they are just as attached to their 3D, holodeck, surround-sound story as I usually am to mine, unless we're willing and able to open some wedge of objective perspective.

That's the thing with cognitive biases, or frames, or assumptions:
you don't know you have them---to you, they feel like reality.

"They're learned very early and you don't know that you've learned them." --Lakoff

And for the realization that other people are living in different realities, and therefore the realization that I am living in my very own version of a story too, I thank GWTW.

Welcome to the club, Scarlett. (But congratulations for realizing it!)

*"Exactly what it means to 'frame' issues seems to depend on [who] you are talking to, but everyone agrees that it has to do with choosing the language to define a debate and, more important, with fitting individual issues into the contexts of broader story lines. "
--"The Framing Wars", 2005 NYT 

Lakoff on Trump (on youtube)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

"Breathe." Now with Instructions!


I found this ^ on The Bloggess (Jenny Lawson) who I don't usually read because while she writes honestly about living with chronic mental illness, which I super appreciate, she also is relentlessly twee, recently recording, for instance, "We ate Easter dinner at the Dairy Queen drive thru."  
Isn't that just too, too adorable
It goes on like that. But sometimes I seek out that Chipper Voice of Depression
such as when depression descends on a friend, like it does*, and I want some reminders and cheering up and even practical tips, like the above instructional GIF, which I unironically love.
I felt better within 3 seconds.

Full Disclosure: I was also listening to "The Very Best of ELO" and thinking about Starsky at the time I saw this.
"Don't Bring Me Down"


"Mara Wilson on Anxiety, OCD, and Depression"
Says something really helpful:
"I wish I had fought my depression, and not fought my anxiety as much."
Around 2:00 she gives a Breathing exercise:


From Project UR OK, videos for mental health, kind of like the ongoing It Gets Better project to collect and share stories for LBGTQ+ youth (and older).

*"There’s a decent chance mental illness plays some role in your life, whether it’s you personally or someone you know and love."

"Wil Wheaton on Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Chronic Depression, and Recovery":

Friday, May 5, 2017

"Even burned and cracked, they're beautiful."

My sister asked me, this past week, to help her choose a gift for one of women who is helping care for our father. All my sister knew is that this woman loves the original Mr. Spock (like I do, which is why she asked me), and she's into crystals.

It's like that game where you have to make dinner out of the contents of your fridge: You have three eggs, salad dressing, a wrinkled apple, and half a bottle of green olives. Go!
And, sometimes it works great.
Like in this case. 

Star Trek has one famous crystal, which any Trekkie would know:
the star ship is fueled by dilithium crystals. Since dilithium doesn't actually exist, a person looking to buy a gift has a lot of latitude. 

In googling around, I found this fabulous piece of information:
in the episode "Mudd's Women" (one of the worst), Mr. Spock holds burned-out dilithium crystal with a hairline crack, and he says,
"Even
burned and cracked, they're beautiful."

And, you can see, ^ it's noted that the prop crystal was smoky quartz, which you can buy it in any rock shop for anywhere from one to a thousand dollars.

Turns out smoky quartz is supposed to be "excellent for elevating moods, overcoming negative emotions, and relieving depression, and enhancing and encouraging courage and inner strength," which those of us who feel a bit burned and cracked ourselves might could use. 
I'm going to the rock shop right now.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Some Inspiring Works by Women Writers, I

Working on Toni Morrison's wikipedia article, I came across a list of ten inspiring female writers (including Morrison) compiled in response to Gay Talese saying last year (2016) that no women writers had inspired him.

So, quickly this morning I wrote a partial list of
Some Works by Women Writers That Have Inspired Me

(Being inspired by a book is not exactly the same as being inspired by its writer qua writer, but they overlap for me, and anyway, that's where I'm starting.)

1. Joan Aiken, the Dido Twite series (1962– ), including The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Nightbirds on Nantucket, and Dido and Pa

Fierce, weird street urchin girl deals with wolves, whales, and Hanoverian plotters with pluck and sadness. Written for children, by someone who knows it's not necessarily nice to be a child.

2. Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères (1969)
Fierce, weird women warriors disprove idea that women are always nice to cats

3. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847)
Fierce, weird orphan girl makes her way in the world by her own lights--not until I reread it for the nth time at midlife did I realize it can be read as an allegory (or memoir) for living an authentic, creative life with no resources. If Jane can't have freedom,
"'Then,' I cried, half desperate, 'grant me at least a new servitude!'"

4. Hilary Mantel, Fludd (1989)
Fierce, weird, young Irish Catholic novice Sister Philomena gets a better offer of personal freedom from, is that the devil?

5. Muriel Spark, Loitering With Intent (1981)
Not exactly fierce or weird, independent woman editor Fleur Talbot declares,
"How wonderful to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century."

6. Barbara Pym, Excellent Women (1952)
Even less fierce, though slightly weird, English clergyman's daughter Mildred Lathbury lives a little life on her own in post-World War II London. Perhaps self-sufficiency is forced on rather than chosen by her, and her plight is both lonely and ridiculous, but she lives with an impressive, even heroic, lack of self-deception.

I recently quoted from this novel:
"Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea, I thought, as I watched Miss Statham filling the heavy teapot. Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, 'Do we need tea? she echoed. 'But Miss Lathbury...'
She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realise that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind."
7. Doris Lessing, In Pursuit of the English (1960)
Definitely fierce and weird again, this is Lessing's sort-of-a-memoir of life in post-World War II London, where she moves from Rhodesia (later Zimbabawe) in 1950--it's cold and damp and no one has enough of anything: a realistic antidote to romanticizing Anglophilia

8. Jane Austen, Emma (1815)
Emma! Fierce and weird, though disguised in frockery.
I dislike how many modern movie adaptations of Austen make her stories all about the romance. (Exception: BBC's 1995 version of Persuasion, starring Amanda Root, catches the social realities of the heroine Anne Elliot's lonely, impoverished life---looks as romantic as living with bread crumbs in your always-slipping-down stockings.)

9. Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (2000)
Graphic memoir tells the political story of her time through her personal experience growing up during and after the Iranian Revolution of 1979
10. Sappho (born circa 615 BCE)
For the line, "“You may forget but let me tell you this: someone in some future time will think of us." Hey, that's us… that's me!

11. Egeria, Egeria's Travels (early 380s CE)
1919 edition online here
If anyone thinks women didn't have adventures before modern times...
This partial surviving journal kept (in Latin) by the intrepid Egeria on a pilgrimage to Jersusalem, written for her Christian "sisters" at home––possibly nuns in Spain––is full of details of interest to liturgists, but what struck me was how this real person's enthusiasms come through, despite considerable inconveniences:
"As we went, the priest of the place, i. e. Livias, whom we had prayed to accompany us from the station, because he knew the places well, advised us, saying: 'If you wish to see the water which flows from the rock, which Moses gave to the children of Israel when they were thirsty, you can see it if you are willing to undertake the labour of going about six miles out of the way.'
When he had said this, we very eagerly wished to go, and turning at once out of our way, we followed the priest who led us." 
to be continued...

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sad Soul, Cheerful Disposition

"I’ve always viewed myself as a person with a deeply sad soul but a cheerful disposition."
--Cornel West, in conversation with Toni Morrison, "Blues, Love and Politics," The Nation, May 6, 2004

I came across this ^ article, spending the past three days working on the Wikipedia article for Toni Morrison. I was surprised how incomplete and imprecise her entry was. 
Wikipedia famously lacks women editors and therefore articles about things women editors are interested in, but I'd have figured some literary type interested in Nobel Prize–winners would have done a crackerjack job on Morrison.
But no.

I'm not a particular fan of Morrison, but it struck me as near calamitous that her entry be so paltry. 

So. 
It still needs work, but it's a lot better now––more Oprah!––(you know I love pop + academic blends), and I got a lot of satisfaction from another wiki-editor's note, "thank you Fresca for your much more substantial work!"

Anyway, Cornel West.
I relate to how he describes himself as sad and cheerful. I'm not sure how I come across on this blog, but generally people seem to have a hard time conceiving of me as sad or suffering, because I'm pretty peppy.

I like that West is clear these are not contradictory states.

This is West's quote in a little more context. He and Morrison are talking about "how you would characterize our historical moment."
"I’ve always viewed myself as a person with a deeply sad soul but a cheerful disposition. So that when you say you feel terrified and melancholic, that describes my situation too, but it’s just that I always believe that struggle and the unleashing of moral energy in the form of moral outrage can make a difference no matter what the situation is.
And it may have something to do with just having a blues sensibility, a tragic orientation, a sense that no matter how mendacious elites may be, they can never extinguish the forces for good in the world.
And if that’s true, then they’re mighty but not almighty."
Morrison usually looks dignified, even regal in photos--I love that she's cracking up here, with West in 1996, following her Jefferson lecture:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Four Copies!

Praise the day! bink just successfully printed 4 copies of our Trump-time ABC zine Baby's First Resist/story on her printer. (Image registration had successfully resisted us at the Xerox machine.)
IT EXISTS!

(They're kind of expensive to print--all that black ink--so we're going to put the zine online. Soon!)

Try, try, again, afresh afresh afresh

Bloody hell [she says in fake Britishness], I schemed but utterly failed not to turn into a pudding while writing over the winter. 
I repeat myself, but I keep marveling at how it gets harder at mid-life to pop back up like a bouncy toy--more like dragging yourself out of bed, requiring a gigantic effort of will. Not my strong suit.

I chant the last line of this poem, the only Philip Larkin thing I like (that I know of) to GET MYSELF MOVING this morning, off to the YW after mumble mumble months away and sampling many springtime brews.
Ugh. Here I go.
 

"The Trees"

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again 

And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.


by Philip Larkin