Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Turning, by Tim Winton, brief review

Okay, I realize I'm pushing Winton's books so hard you'd think I was getting a commission. I'm not, they are just THAT good. I promise, this is the last one for a bit, just so I can slow down and savor them. I have a few I will keep shelved a few weeks. For one thing, I need a refresher course on Australian history before I read anymore.

So, The Turning. It's a collection of short stories that at first seemed bewildering. The stories would unwind, a character would develop, and then it was over. It wasn't until several stories in did I realize that the characters would return, at different points in their lives. Vic is introduced as a child, later as a teen, an adult man, and finally a dying man. He and his family have little vignettes about them, nothing too obvious, just bits and pieces that make up a whole. People they meet show up in another story. A seemingly meaningless interaction takes greater signficance when told by a different narrator. By the end, you are addicted.

The main theme is about how events in childhood and adolescence shape us our whole lives. And not the big "prom" style events, but the little secrets, the overheard conversations, the random details that have meaning as one grows older.

I never really cared for the concept of childhood shaping us. I've never had patience for ones who try and use a bad childhood as an excuse for their poor lives now. I've always resented the whiners that complain their parents didn't do enough for them. Perhaps, in hindsight from the events of the last year or so in my adult life, I'm realizing that maybe that was denial on my part; not wanting to admit that I, too, have been deeply affected by events as a child. As a parent, it's even more scary to realize that events that may be out of our control can trouble our children to the point that their future trust, relationships, and faith can be tainted.

Anyway, a key paragraph in one story sums up this theme from the whole collection, from the story "Defender" and the character is Gail speaking to her husband Vic:

"Do you realize that every vivid experience in your life comes from your adolescence? You should hear yourself talk. You're trapped in it. Nothing you do now holds your attention like the past. Not me, not even your work, these days. I feel like...I'm just part of some long, faded epilogue to your real life."

Throughout the book we've come to see everything about Vic, but still have to imagine what the key to Vic's unravelling was. Winton doesn't make it easy or draw it out in crayon. You really have to let your mind ponder it to get what may be the key to his circumstances.

A couple other phrases caught my eye:
"It's a problem...a curse. You can't compensate for everyone all of your life. In the end you have to demand something of people." from "Defender".

"Family...It's not a word, it's a sentence." from "Reunion".

This is a fairly quick read. If anything I recommend taking a few notes along the way about each character you meet, just to keep track. I almost wanted to draw a family tree but it was too late in the book to bother. Enjoy!

Big Sky

7:40 tonight

Sunset Sky at Home

This was off the deck tonight, crazy hot weather and wild clouds:

Cheap AND eco-friendly!!!

Purses: I do love me a good bag. A really good purse just makes ordinary life a bit more elegant. Leather, lots of pockets, details: I'm sold. But this week I discovered that baby needed shoes, he suddenly grew out of EVERYTHING, and I needed a bag (I grew out of the old one too). What to do? Cheap baby shoes and nice purse for mom? Or vice versa? I hate being broke!

I had to give in: two pair of good leather shoes for baby (growing feet and all that) and a "faux" leather purse for me. Damn if I wasn't embarrassed taking it to the register! It had all the features I like, just that vinyl edge made me cringe. Such a snob about stupid things! Of course, my jeans are years old, my hair was barely brushed and no makeup on, but I'm cringing about a fake leather handbag? Pathetic, truly.

So, I get home, and in a new magazine read that leather items aren't eco-friendly (???), that many people prefer fake leather or "pleather" as they call it. Oh. So I'm cool now? Can I pretend that the new bag was an intentional purchase because of a personal abhorrence of using an animal for a decorative purpose? Nope. Can't even fake it. When cash flow isn't such a problem, I'm going back to the real deal.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Solitude vs. Solitary Confinement

Anyone who even slightly knows me is aware that I am a loner. I like being home. My space. That I become physically ill if I am around people too much. And yes, apparently that makes me abnormal. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been known to coo in delight at a commercial for a local rest home (the neat little twin bed, the nightstand, the requisite seascape on the wall, and they let you keep a cat!). Or when we see a prison scene on a television show or a movie, I usually gawk at the cell in jealousy, thinking it’s an unnecessary perk for a criminal.

See, the little cell, it’s so simple. The necessities. The relative order of such a small space. I crave that. I’m sure it’s just the novelty of it: the idea of that tiny quiet space appeals because my life is huge and noisy. I am never alone. I think that solitary confinement would be delightful! At least I did, until I read the article “Hellhole” by Atul Gawande in the March 30, 2009 issue of The New Yorker. It starts out by questioning whether solitary confinement is considered torture. Of course not, said my immediate, jealous self.

Gawande explores the concept of social interaction as a necessary component to a person’s well being. He asserts that research shows that a person without social interaction can become brain damaged. Oh. Beyond that, he goes into medical studies that show that “without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.” Test results can actually show physical damage to the brain from sustained solitary confinement.

He also points out that a “normal” person may exist without damage for some time in solitary confinement, but a person with any sort of mental impairment (a history of ADHD, autism, etc) will without exception become psychotic if the isolation continues beyond a few days.

This disagreed with just about anything I’ve ever learned about prison life. With several family members who are corrections officers, I’d bought into the idea that the dangerous prisoner needs to be in solitary confinement as punishment and to prevent their hurting others. This isn’t backed up by studies. In fact, if anything, solitary confinement encourages antisocial behavior, and creates more problems for inmates in the general population as well as the isolated inmates. Again, it was attributed to the lack of interaction that rendered prisoners unable to be ‘corrected’ by the punishment, and actually more difficult to handle because of a lack of remorse, despair, general hostility, and erratic behavior.

I found it interesting to see that the US is the only Western country that uses solitary confinement as a normal course of punishment in its penal system, and its use has only become prevalent in the last 20 years. At one point, in 1890, the US Supreme Court nearly banned solitary confinement for being “unconstitutional”. It was rarely used, and then only for short periods. However, as the prison population has grown, this isolation appears to be needed to control the wildness found in many overcrowded prisons. The US houses 25% of the world’s prisoners, yet the facilities are not designed for such size. Violence has increased, not decreased, since the confinement has become standard.

Great Britain has made new strides in containing difficult prisoners. They don’t use solitary confinement regularly, it’s an extreme that is a last resort. For example, “in all of England, there are now fewer prisoners in [solitary confinement] than there are in the state of Maine.” In fact, Britain has instituted its own style of handling their most dangerous prisoners in a way that contains them in smaller units, with more exercise, more access to mental health care, and special programming to increase social skills. These small choices and opportunities allow them to enjoy documenAted success of very few incidents of violence.

The article is a great read, and it boils down to the assertion that if rehabilitation is what is desired, solitary confinement is absolutely the wrong way to go. Very few cases exist that show a long-time confined inmate becoming rehabilitated to the “real world”. It makes you wonder what problems are being perpetuated by this practice, especially to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, who deal with years-long solitary confinement. A short term practice that may become a long term nightmare.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Frederick Keonig quote

Meaningless Rant

Air fresheners. Yep, how meaningless can you get? But I have to spill my guts. I cannot handle air fresheners!

No, I’m not chemically sensitive. At least not yet. But I am completely mystified at the current “trend” of scenting every bit of air in a home till it smells like a funeral home. I visited Target and found that an entire LONG aisle had both sides devoted to air fresheners. Sprays, plug-ins, solid goo, powders, and even fake candles of every color and scent. Scents like “Clean Linen”, “Hawaiian Breeze” and “After the Rain”.

So when did people become so stinky?

Rather than spraying “Clean Linen” why not actually wash the sheets and HAVE clean linen? Or is the flowery scent of “Hawaiian Breeze” going to convince you that you are in the Islands instead of your own home? Because I can tell the difference, for sure, even with my eyes closed.
Is it rather that people don’t want anyone to think they smell so it’s a preemptive measure?

One commercial for Febreze (the top dog in air freshener sprays) shows a woman delightfully spraying her home and car and everything in between with the shiny blue can, to eliminate “nasty odors”. Why not just clean her house and car the old fashioned way and have it smell clean and BE clean? Or is it a matter of not cleaning but getting away with a few sprays so someone thinks you’ve cleaned? Sort of along the lines of putting perfume on to cover up BO?

My sister in law adores air fresheners. She has a large, beautiful home: throughout it you’ll find “plug-in” fan fresheners in every room, and in large rooms, more than one. The scents all vary, so you can walk through and apparently feel like you are in Hawaii, after the rain, near a laundrymat. It is dizzying, it creates an instant headache, and is possibly dangerous. I don’t find her a particularly smelly person. I believe she bathes and her home and clothes are clean. So why the foo-foo air? What’s the point?

See, I’m not so much against freshening bad air. When the dogs get promoted to the laundry room during cold winters I use a little air freshener to keep it less “doggy”. And sure, I can see a discreet air freshener in a bathroom. And I have nothing against pretty candles. But the sensory overload of scenting everything makes no sense. For one thing, who stops to smell the flowers if the house already smells like rosebuds? Do people even notice night jasmine in the yard, or sage on their jeans from a hike, or even a geranium scent on the dog’s fur from getting into the plants? Doesn’t the use of all these air fresheners actually dull the senses?

Beyond that, I seriously worry about the dangers of all these air fresheners. They are just artificial chemicals, aerated or vaporized into the air to be inhaled by pets, babies, and even smelly adults. Powders that scent the rug are inhaled by anything small. Just because you can’t see the chemicals doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Then there’s the residue: when it falls it has to land somewhere, even microscopically small particles that are going to be in food, on utensils, even on us. In what sense can this be a good thing?

What Kind of Day will this be?

I awoke humming Barry Manilow (American Bandstand? What the heck?) music, and went downstairs to find that the coffee made was "Pumpkin Spice" flavored. Who invented that? Such cruelty to disparage coffee that way (almost as bad as the "Cranberry Cream" coffee that DH purchased). Ick. Why can't coffee just be coffee? Then I turn to my trusty Yerba Mate tea, and we are, sadly, OUT.

I should just go back to bed. This can't bode well for my day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Satchel Paige, on age and dumb kids

"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?"
Satchel Paige

This question cracked me up. Because I really can't answer it.

As I was growing up, when I'd ask my mom how old she was, she always said "19" (note that she was 32 when I was born). It's pretty sad to admit how long it took me to realize that couldn't possibly be true. So when I told her she couldn't be 19, she admitted I was right, that she actually was 29. Again, a woefully long amount of time went by before I did the math. Once I cornered her on it, she said she feels like 19 on the inside, that the body changes but the way you feel doesn't. Oh. Too deep for a child.

Now that I've hit 40, I wonder how old I would be, if I considered Paige's quote above. See, I love my brain right now. I love how I feel on the inside. I like myself for the most part (we are talking inside here, the outside leaves MUCH to be desired). And yet, I have to admit I've felt this way a long time. I think maybe my mom was right, you never really feel different as you age. I can't think of what would be my happiest year, unless you count this last year. I think I have a general satisfaction with the parts of my life that I have control over. External things could change for the better in so many ways, but as it is, I'm happy. No one would call me jolly, but I do feel content.

The weirdest thing about getting old is sometimes feeling childlike while I'm around other adults, my peers. I've been known to move to the back seat of a car, when another adult is going to get in, out of respect. That was taught to me as a kid, and it recently had to be pointed out to me that I was actually older than the woman getting in. Somehow my head said she was older than me and I had to move for her. Yes, I got mocked a bit for this! But it was a genuine impulse.

I got a little jolt Saturday when watching Saturday Night Live, with the adorable Zac Efron hosting. Damn if he isn't cute! Of course, someone cheerfully pointed out that he was the same age as my son. Oh. Ick. When you realize that James Bond is younger than you, it IS sobering. When we saw the most recent Bond movie, I was rooting for him and M to have an "encounter". This appalled my teen sons, who made retching noises for several minutes. But, what's so crazy and sickening about that? Judi Dench is a great looking lady. Is the idea that appalling? I must be old after all, as I thought it would be a great twist to the movie.

The Soloist, new movie coming out

Geez I'm chatty lately! So much stuffed in this pretty little head begging to come out (ha).

Okay, The Soloist is out now, or at least opening soon. I have to highly recommend this, even though I haven't seen it. What I do know is that rather than reading the book, I actually read Steve Lopez's column in the LA Times, as the whole story unfolded (which later became the book). Steve Lopez is my favorite columnist anyway, but this is one of his best series.

He's dealing with poverty, mental illness, people's attitudes towards the mentally ill, and shows how people can make a difference, even though there may not be a happy ending. He spends a great deal of time on skid row, meets a schizophrenic musician, gets to know him, and finds that he's actually a former Juilliard student that once schooled with Yo Yo Ma. He doesn't clean him up, make it all better, and suddenly the bum (sarcastic here) becomes a star. Not that easy.

Actually, it's far more realistic than this. Lopez tries to help while battling the mercurial moods of the schizophrenic, the lack of appreciation for his efforts, several wasted attempts at help, lost meetings, wasted money, etc. He shows that even when shone a better life, a more "normal" life, a person who is mentally ill may not choose that. If he even consciously has a choice in the matter.

Many people may find it amazing that someone so incredibly, deeply messed up could have such a staggering musical gift. Savant like.

It's amazing and touching. Especially in that Lopez gets into this so deeply, when he could easily report from afar. The movie has Robert Downey Jr. playing Lopez (generous!) and Jamie Foxx as the musician (I think his name was Nate). It has Oscar potential, but I don't want that interfering with Viggo Mortensen getting an Oscar for The Road (if it ever comes out). It's billed as a 'feel good' movie, but if it is close to the original column, that may be misleading. It's an intense, real story. It doesn't have to 'feel good'.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Does anyone read anymore?

The Twilight of Books, essay from New Yorker magazine 2007


I was startled recently when speaking to an old friend. I asked her if she was reading anything interesting, just to break the ice from a long absence. She said she never reads, not since high school. Ouch.

bridge at sunset

More random thoughts on Dirt Music, Tim Winton

In a previous post, I mentioned how Winton seems to idealize children. After I posted that, I went back and discovered that many of the children in his books (as well as adults) have names that are of animals: Bird, and Luther Fox in Dirt Music; Fish in Cloudstreet. All the books also seem to discuss how trees seem animated into human form during various crises. Hmmm.

Window, Australia

Dirt Music, thoughts

I finished Dirt Music (Tim Winton) with a sense of loss. I was sorry to see the story end, especially as no clear conclusion was reached. That's okay, I'm a grownup, I can handle there not being a defined ending (I've given up on happy endings). Without giving any spoilers, a few thoughts:

Tim Winton is so detailed and thorough that you get a sense of every detail in the scenes. The weather, the feel of the dust on your skin, the smells of the eucalyptus, as well as the emotions of the character are felt, not simply read. I didn't care for the main female character, I thought she was unsympathetic and apathetic to other characters, even the one she loves. The male lead is great, but of course, it's fiction! He has to be THAT perfect to make it work.

The main themes are overcoming your own personality flaws, and the fear of being left behind. Winton's main character Lu has lost everyone he loves; on this journey he meets several characters that could represent those faces from his past. He also has to face the reality that his own perceptions from the past may have been wrong. Horrifyingly so.

Rumor has it that this will become a film. Rachel Weisz is signed to play Georgia, which sounds fine. But there is a bit of a mystery regarding Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell. IMDB, the movie database, lists Colin as playing Lu. However, another report says Russell would play Lu. The other main male character, Jim, is pretty fascinating: he could be played by Russell but defintely not Colin. So I'm not sure which is accurate. I hope that Russell plays Lu, but he could do the character Jim Buckridge with a bit of a evil streak which might be interesting to see.

I'd be very interested to see how a screenplay could be written to show the amount of time passing as well as do justice to the Australian terrain and the long stretches without dialogue. My first reaction was that it would be compared with Tom Hank's Castaway. I think Russell could carry that, I don't think Colin has that much depth.

Anyway, this book had me take out the atlas, the dictionary, and use Google several times to see the trees and earthforms he describes. I think a geologist would particularly like this book, lots of rock talk.

Lastly, I've noticed that in the three Winton books I've read that Winton seems to idolize children, almost in a mythological way. That's not a bad thing, but it just seems that the children in his books develop almost a fairy like quality of mystery and perfection.

I have two more Winton books coming in the mail. I am rationing them, savoring each chapter so I don't run out of this delicious stuff too soon. Highly recommend!
Reality without imagination is only half of reality. – Luis Buñuel

Friday, April 10, 2009

Excerpt from Dirt Music

"You put up a tent to make a space you think you can deal with. You know the whole night's still out there - the land, the sky and every creeping thing - and you understand how thin the fabric is, what a pissy pretence you hold to, but with your tent blown open you feel more exposed than if you'd lain down on your mat beneath the stars. You can't see what's coming."

from Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Back to high school


A friend forwarded this to me. ARGH! It's painful but still fun. The 80's lurks on Youtube. Wonder where Adam Ant is now...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


My Joy!

Morro Rock, north of Montano de Oro

Morro Rock, the focal point of Morro Bay, east of San Luis Obispo. I've never seen a photo do it justice, it's just too massive and stunning. It's HUGE. This photo may be an attempt, but you really can't grasp the enormity of it. For my out of state friends, this is on the "must see" list for visitors (hint hint!).

A favorite place...

This is from Spooner Cove at Montano de Oro state beach near Morro Bay. We hike here occasionally, and it is just the ultimate California beach. The only bad memory from here is a badly sprained ankle: wish I could say it was from a tough hike but it was just getting out of the car.

New Treats on their Way

Yay! Haven't placed a book order in forever: Borders is sending out:

Tim Winton's The Turning, and That Eye, That Sky (because I'm a huge fan, currently finishing Dirt Music). His book The Riders is my all time favorite, and Cloudstreet is in the top ten.

Also, Out Stealing Horses by Per Pattersen (just love the name) and Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson (recommended online).

After Dirt Music is done, I want to go back to Knut Hamsen's Hunger, which I have seen quoted so many times that I really want to get it as a whole instead of bits and pieces.

Neiner neiner neiner!!!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Getting Back on Track with my Blog

After a long interval, and the loss of a previous blog, I'm ready to get back in the habit of throwing my thoughts out into the universe.

My previous blog did me much good in a time of tremendous stress. It was therapeutic to vent away, firing off random sequences of mostly irrational ideas. Sometimes it was quotes that I loved, sometimes pictures that spoke to me. And it gave me the junior high enjoyment of listing my favorites of everything that seemed to matter. Sometimes speaking my mind meant saying things other people didn't want to hear.

While in my former blog, I didn't refer to anyone by name, and spoke mostly of my own personal events in what I thought was anonymity, I ended up having it used against me. A former friend, unhappy with recent actions I had taken, had given the address of the blog to many former friends and some genuine enemies. They read my pathetic attempts at poetry, my ramblings on my problems with recurrent depression, and viewed my favorite photos. They relished the idea that they had my secrets, and used them to question my state of mind. While I know there is no true anonymity on the Internet, it was private, or so I thought.

I was genuinely sickened: it felt like the world had read my private diary.

I gave up on the blog for months. I thought it would be meaningless to put myself in that position again. I missed it.

So, I'm back. I need this. If it slams me again, so be it. I am doing this purely for me, a place to organize my quotes, pictures, and thoughts. I will be cautious, and can only suggest such caution for others as well. To the friends that I give this blog address to, I ask you please respect my desire for privacy and realize the great faith I have in you by sharing this junk with you!

Lope de Vega quote

With a few flowers in my garden,
half a dozen pictures and some books,
I live without envy.

Lope de Vega

This pretty much sums up my current desired existence...

Agony River by Scott Wannberg

Agony River

Temperature has a headache
swears it won't rise to your occasion
Speeding patrol cars out of fashion
find enough time to spotlight your cold skin

Agony River just called collect
promises to flow to the front door in a few hours
Strange faces from the ongoing confusion
only make the decision that much harder
Pull the plug or mop up the bleeding deck one last time
in hope it will never show up again

Pain aches for you and it calls me over and
wants to know the secret of reaching you
Idiot, I tell it, the only secret is in
the sunlight, how it still finds a way to bathe you
when all the experts have run off to the airport
for their red eye flights home

Agony River winds its way to the sea
and we are nothing more than
belligerent fish
waiting for some omnipresent hook
to call on us for some kind of sustaining belief

Scott Wannberg

Ural Mountain hike....

Selkirk Mountain Range....