Saturday, November 28, 2009

The "Giveaway", Lakota tradition

I recently read an article about a woman who began giving away her precious items, per the tradition of the Native American Lakota tribe.  I can't remember where I read it, but it was fascinating because the items she gave away were not castoffs or unneeded trivial things.  She gave away her favorite and most treasured items.  What a concept!

When I read it I couldn't wrap my head around the idea.  At first I thought it was a subtle idea of simplifying life by giving away clutter.  But to give away the very finest things one owns?  Wow.  The premise was to give away something loved so that someone else could feel that love.  I did some research on the Lakota Indians, and generosity is one of their four main tenets. 

To try and understand, I tried to evaluate my most precious possessions, and sadly couldn't really come up with anything other than my children.  Sure, there's photos of family and friends that I treasure, and always my stacks of books.  In terms of heirlooms I don't have much:  an unfinished quilt from my Grandma Bessie, a tiny little pair of leather crib shoes of #3, some drawings of birds that #2 made, and a couple of handmade items I made when my boys were little.  That's it.  And in reality, those are precious only to me.  I could live without them.  Strangely, that felt really good to realize.

It made me think of all the people out buying gifts right now, willing to stand in lines overnight to purchase a gift that may hold no sentiment to the recipient.  Really, they are only giving 'stuff'.  How to know if a gift has real meaning?  If one followed the Lakota tradition of the "Giveaway", what if you gave something you loved to someone who stuck it into a drawer and never looked at it again? Or got any sense of what you gave them?  Is that the point?  That you simply don't know?

I once did an intricate embroidery stitched nautilus shell for a friend who collected shells.  It wasn't cutesy at all, or tacky.  It was based on an actual scientific drawing of the nautilus.  It was classy!  Ha.  I had it framed for her.  She smiled kindly and said a hearty thanks.  A few years later, there it was, on a table at her garage sale.  And yes, she charged me 25 cents for the frame (the embroidered piece was free with purchase, LOL).  She must have forgotten (I can only hope) that I had given it to her.  So I got it back with a sense of humor, but never forgot that I had labored for so many hours on it and that was a waste.  Or was it? 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lit, a memoir, by Mary Karr

Confession is one of the main tenets of Catholicism, and this memoir by Mary Karr seems to be both the confession and the penance she pays in her late conversion to Catholicism at the final third of the book.

Is there such a thing as being too honest?  Karr confesses to her lifelong addiction to alcohol, and all the ugly events that occurred during her life because of her alcoholism.  She's brutally honest, which takes a ton of guts, because I really couldn't stand her as I read it.   She wrote this as a form of atonement to her son for her years of poor mothering and distance. 

Essentially she had a tragic childhood filled with ugliness and pain.  She longs to be a poet, to find a way to make magic with words and leave her mark on the world.  But given that, she spends very little time discussing her actual development of poetry, instead she professes her love for the 'look' of poets:  the starving artist, the tortured soul who is misunderstood and unappreciated, almost like she's reaching for the costume.  It seems like she wants to join the poet's club rather than actually be a poet.  Maybe her real gift is in this form of writing, the memoir.  It's her third.  She has no trouble with words in this respect.

She writes well, in a witty, self-deprecating way.  She doesn't ask for sympathy or pity, and in many ways that would be hard to give.  Is it wrong to say she's selfish and rude, when she's gone so far to be this honest?  Because that's the impression she gives.  She does have her conversion at the end, which I found a little bit offputting, because again she seems to want to join a club rather than really feel a spiritual connection.  And yet she points out the all people have a spiritual need, and I do agree with that.  But her roller coaster ride with finding sobriety makes her unpleasant and irritating.  No doubt some of it had to do with the alcohol.

It's just very difficult to tolerate her reeling off stories of how often she drove drunk with her son in the car, how she avoided caring for her sick son,  and how being alone with her child was boring and a chore.  I don't get that, alcoholism or not.  So many times she put him in danger, when she had the resources to get help and refused it.  When counselors told her to count her blessings, she couldn't think of any:  not the sweet little boy she had, nor the home, the loving husband, etc.  When asked what she wanted in life, her answer was "more money".  And while she complained about being judged unfairly, she was the most judgemental of all.  It seems so out of touch. 

In all, it was a good read in terms of learning about alcoholism and the recovery process.  There were a few gems of wisdom in it, as when a counselor told her if she worries she will be judged, she should ask herself 'what do you base that on?'  If she admits it's her own imagination and worry, than it has to be dismissed.    She's repeatedly told to stop imagining what people think of her, and to realize that everyone is worrying about their own problems, not hers.  All her worries about not measuring up or fitting in, which she used alcohol to mask, had to go in order for her to not feel the need for the alcohol.

I admire her candor, and respect her efforts to make amends.  I don't agree with all her premises at the end, but I'm glad she got her life together.

In the Wake, Per Petterson

In the Wake by Per Petterson...

I'm sleep walking today as I ended up sucked into this book all night long and ended up with maybe an hour of sleep.  A sleep filled with images from the book.  Which is really appropriate given that I'm in a similar state to the main character of this book, Arvid.

"Wake" can refer to three things, and all are fitting for this novel by the Norwegian writer Petterson.  First, it can mean wake as in not asleep, awake:  which is something that happens fairly rarely as the protagonist is sleepwalking through his days haunted by both memories and dreams that seem to keep him out of a fully awake coherent state.   It can also mean a vigil held over a corpse before burial, and this fits too:  the main character has lost most of his family to tragedy at sea and the remainder of them to divorce and an attempted suicide.  He is unable to bury his family, so to speak, as his memories of his father keep pressing at him.  Lastly, wake can represent the wave that spreads behind a boat, or the consequences of an event (what is left behind spinning out of control).  This again fits as the tragedy at sea is from a burning ship. 

All of these forms of "wake" fit into the puzzle of the novel without being overly clever or trite.  The character Arvid  is complex, and Petterson fills him out into a human that fascinates me yet still leaves me questions unanswered. 

For one thing, there's no seeming explanation for the distance from Arvid and his brother throughout their childhood, both emotionally and geographically.  Additionally, his relationship with his father seems based on pleasing his Dad even to the point of his own suffering.  What does he get out of that?  He doesn't seem to care for his Dad, and acknowledges in several places that at his father's many requests, he could have declined at any time.  He didn't.  He pushed himself to live up to his father's expectations, and yet seemed to have no discernable love for him.  Towards the end he concludes that if he knew some of his father's own struggles, revealed after his death, it might have made him closer to him in life.

Another big question for me was why, after his divorce, did he spend so little time with his daughters?  He mentions that maybe he's had enough of family and family connections, yet he chides his suicidal brother for not considering what his son would have felt had his suicide succeeded.   Throughout the book Arvid goes through his fog of memories (literal fog too) and nearly kills himself numerous times in different ways, albeit without the conscious decision.  I wonder if he intentionally tried to dissolve his own role as father so as not to traumatize his daughters with his own death, one that seems lurking behind every corner.

I really liked this book, and the character is someone I could see having coffee with.  It asserts that everyone grieves differently (no kidding) but also that grief never fades.  It may move into another corner of the mind, as if in a spare room with the door shut, but it is still in residence.

One thing that sort of rattled me was that this book was a translation from Norwegian, and there were a few phrases that seemed really out of whack.  I know nothing of language or translation, but I'm curious if that was an intention of the author or a glitch in the translation.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Books, New Treasures!

Some new goodies to keep me warm in winter:

Shyness and Dignity by Dag Stolstad
In the Wake, and To Siberia by Per Petterson
The Kindly Ones by Littell
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Barbery
Lit by Mary Karr
My Mother Never Dies by Castillon
The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
Guardains of Being by Tolle
also four by Lawrence Durrell (Greece)

and for Baby 3:
The Cat at Night (based on a rave by Dave Eggers)
Harold and the Purple Crayon (ditto)
Katy No Pocket
Angus Lost
Jesse-Bear, What Will You Wear?
David Smells


Being Choosy

"Sometimes it takes the darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you"

David Whyte

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tennessee Williams quotes

I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.

A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This and that...

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

How is it that no other news organization addresses this stuff? Last night he points out how Fox News and Hannity knowingly used footage from a two month old political event and said it was from earlier in the day. Isn’t that significant? Years ago Cokie Roberts and her news organization (I think it was CBS) was heavily chastised for her standing in front of a green screen and saying “from the White House” instead of actually being there. This is much more problematic in that Fox was trying to show “overwhelming opposition” to health care reform that didn’t exist.

Monday’s show had similar complaints about the health care debate, with Rep. Victoria Foxx stated that the health care bill is “an exercise in the tyranny of the majority”. What? I had to TIVO back to see what she said. Isn’t popular vote a fundamental democratic principle? Does she prefer a ‘tyranny of the minority’? Is it that people who want health care are tyrants? I realize most of this is an exercise in futility but it just seems like such foolishness and scare tactics.

Along the same note, I had internet issues over the weekend and had to wait for Tuesday for a repairman. He shows on time, which should have been a clue that something was amiss. He comes in and first says “Coffee smells good” so of course I offer him some. Then he insists he needs to see every room and their phone jacks, including the bathrooms? The whole time he walks around he is just staring at everything…books on shelves (turning his head to see titles which I do too at people’s houses but more subtly), food in cabinets, just continual eye roving. X says he was looking for wiring issues but I thought he was prowling. Anyway, he mentions he just moved to our town and I asked him if he likes it, and he responds “we feel so blessed”. Oh. Just that one word and his intonation “blessed” and I knew him by heart. Fundamental redneck conservative. And as if reading my thoughts, he said, completely out of nowhere, “it’s so sad that Obama is going to turn us all into Socialists.” LOL WHAT? I ignore him and X giggles a little because he knows I’m annoyed. I go and do my passive aggressive bit by putting on the TIVO with an episode of Jon Stewart, loud, because I really have nothing to say to him and I don’t want to irritate him because he’s IN MY HOUSE and staring at our stuff. Funny thing (or not?) is that when he repairs it, our internet speeds seems slower than before. Coincidence? I think not.

It's just so completely wrong that health care is such an issue, it seems so fundamental.  My brother is terribly sick and he can't even get a second opinion on his health issues because he can't afford it.  Without children he can't qualify for some of the low income programs.  He has no income and no options. 

Watched STATE OF PLAY last night with X. Pretty good flick. It was pretty tightly done, lots of suspense, until at the end they had to throw in one more twist that just was too much, made it seem kind of silly. Worth the time though. I laughed when Russell Crowe’s snarky reporter says sarcastically “I have to read a few blogs before I can form an opinion on that.”

Started a new book today Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq. I was sent an advance copy to review before it is officially released. So far, I like it. I don’t want to cry though. Somehow I have enough trouble with the words pediatric and surgeon, adding in Iraq tells me there may be tears. I am such a marshmallow lately.

Played a bit of tourist today just for fun. X had an appointment in San Luis Obispo so we hit the park with baby, as well as the pier at Pismo Beach, the Monarch Grove, and out to lunch. Sort of refreshing to be at the beach, I don’t know why we don’t go more. It’s right there and so often we forget how great it is.

Big news in the yard: we had a Stellar blue jay visiting one of the oak trees. Not a local, unless something is up with his habitat and he’s looking for new digs. Usually the furthest south I’ve seen them has been Atascadero or in the Los Padres Forest. But he was behind the garage, scaring the regular birds to death and grabbing up all the peanuts we tossed on the garage roof. I hope he stays. He’s very handsome. We might call him Spike. And the Ring Tail Dove count this morning, at 7:am, was 52 at just one location. They are eating us out of house and home. A few years ago it was a big deal to see one or two of them around here.

X just brought me an ice cold beer. Tecate. Nice.  End of grumbling.

Marcus Aurelius

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Marcus Aurelius

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The History Teacher, Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.
— Billy Collins, from Sailing Around the Room

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday fun, Christopher Walken performs Lady Gaga

LOL  A spoken word poet!

Billy the Kid, a film by Jennifer Venditti  See the trailer here!
"I know I'm unique, but I won't let it go to my head," says Billy, the subject of this 2007 documentary by Jennifer Venditti.   He has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, and the film follows him from home to school and into his first romance. 

Son 2 hated it, he thought the movie "sucked the soul out of him", meaning the boy and the exposing of his condition and his personal wishes and dreams.  Of course, he may have been referring to his own soul, as he quit the movie 2/3 the way through. 

It was great in that it was enlightening without being preachy or offering false hopes;  it was sad in that viewing it you realize he's not likely to achieve any of his dreams.  The film was honest, they didn't sugarcoat the condition. In fact, at times it was brutal in that it showed that he was angry, self-absorbed and unreasonable.  It seemed harsh that he opened his life to the camera and perpetua, could he have ever really consented to the invasion of his life?  This movie will follow him whether he likes it or not.  Will that be for the best?  Or will they film a sequel, showing him ten years from now?  That might work...

Significantly, no mention is made of the causes of Asperger's;  although Billy himself reveals a compulsion to tell everyone about the absence of his biological father.  Nurture vs. nature?  His mom seemed genuinely open and real, incredibly patient. 

It's a great film just to use to discuss how all of us have dreams and fears and misplaced hopes, and we all have situations to face that test us.  Great flick!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Scission, Tim Winton short stories

Thanks to an online friend in Australia, I have a link to some hard to find Winton novels to complete my collection.  Yay!

Scission came in the mail today.  It's his first collection of short stories, before he was ever on the map.  It's seriously wonderful.  I haven't read it all, but the stories I've read so far are amazing and complex, even though the longest are only five or six pages.

"Wake", my favorite so far, has had me transfixed while I read it three times over this afternoon.  It is so nuanced, so subtle.  It appears to be the story of an abandoned husband, and you'd think that if you just breezed through the story.  But upon reading it again, clues are found to show that there's much more to it.  While the wife never appears, Winton manages to make her so visible by how the husband behaves.  The things he does while she's gone, and more importantly, the things he doesn't do.  I had put it down after the second time, then about an hour later I remembered something from it and had to retrieve it once more.  On the third go around, yep, there's still more to it!  Wow. 

The lesson from this afternoon was to savor this collection slowly.  Not to rush through and miss the details that turn the story inside out.  Kind of like life?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Shawshank Redemption and Body of Lies, two movie treats!

I normally don't have the concentration required to watch an entire movie in one sitting, but this week I managed two.

The Shawshank Redemption, written by Stephen King, is a pretty horrifying prison story.  It was edited for TV so I imagine unedited it would have been brutal.  In any case, King can tell a story like no one else.  If only for watching Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman interact, it's worth watching.  It had an ending none of us could predict, and we were all left in awe.  If you watch it, consider what subterfuge and the art of distraction has to do with it.

Body of Lies, starring Leo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe.  They make Crowe look heavy, grey, and old and damn if he doesn't still look good.  What seemed amazing though, was how he completely became another person.  Ten minutes into this thriller, you forget he's acting and he simply becomes Ed Hoffman with irritating tics and mannerisms.  I think I know why this bombed in theatres, I don't think people really want to think that hard about what is going on in the Middle East.  This too had an unexpected ending and the whole viewing had us guessing for what would play out (and we were all wrong too).  Great movie.  Sadly, I seem to be getting to be less frightened of violence, as long as it's movie violence and not reality. 

Both movies were thinking films, and I plan to rent State of Play next.