February 28, 2012

Prep for Doomsday

Tomorrow, Part 2 of Making You Feel.  Much more upbeat, I promise.  But in the meantime, in honor of our wonderful Wyoming State Legislature, who is keeping us protected from all sorts of eventualities, including Doomsday, I offer this helful graphic.

February 27, 2012

Methland, by Nick Reding

Sorry for the two supremely dark posts in a row.  I promise to lighten up in the future!


For this month’s book club, we’re reading the nonfiction book Methland: The Death and Life and an American Small Town, by Nick Reding.  It’s about the meth epidemic in small-town America.  So fascinating and so well-written.  (I’m now a huge Nick Reding fan and want to go read everything he’s ever written.) 

It’s full of well-told stories and all kinds of interesting information.  Did you know that Hitler was a meth addict, which might account for his erratic behavior and Parkinson’s-like symptoms at the end?  Did you know that meth was invented in 1898 and was proscribed by doctors for everything from weight gain to a pick-me-upper into ~ what was it? ~ the 50s or 60s?  And did you know that Tom Arnold’s sister Lori was a meth drug kingpin in the Midwest for years?

Meth’s high apparently lasts six or seven hours ~ the long shoulder, as they call it ~ as opposed to crack which only lasts about a half hour.  Apparently, the drug takes over the basic reward system in your brain, and everything that used to feel good (food, sex, etc.) no longer does and the only way to feel good is with increasing amounts of the drug.

The personal and nationwide impact of the drug is horrendous (more on this in a minute).  I was looking at the meth statistics for Wyoming, and apparently there’s reason to be optimistic. Meth use among high school students is down, the number of meth labs went from 60 to 6, and the state did a huge billboard and awareness campaign that seems to be helping.  Above is an example of a billboard (though from Montana). 

Nick tells the story of one particular long-time meth addict who accidentally lights his mother’s house on fire, runs out, but then keeps going back in.  His flesh is burning on his body, and he stands in the yard and tries to peel long strips of flesh from his arms only he can’t because his fingers are burned off.

Nick’s hypothesis is that meth is the only drug that goes hand-in-hand with small-town working-class America. 1) The drug was legal and proscribed for a long time.  2) It helps people work harder.  3) Jobs and opportunities in small-town America have recently been severely reduced, and the only way for people either to work harder or to escape the life they’ve been reduced to is to take meth.  4) It’s cheap and easy to produce in small labs.

A very well-written eye-opening book about a horrible situation.

February 24, 2012

Making You Feel, Part 1

Burned Shoes put up a link on Pinterest yesterday to Buzzfeed’s posting of every World Press Photo winner from 1955-2011. What amazing photos.  My stomach was in a knot and my chest hurt by the time I had viewed them all.  Here are a few.



























Isn’t that what you want you want your fiction to do?  Rip your heart out of your chest and hold it pulsing in front of you?

February 23, 2012

Windsday


The wind has just been out of hand these last couple of days.  When you go outside, it’s like a bully pushing you down.  At night, it howls and shakes the house, and even after living in that house for 20 years, I’m afraid we’ll end up in Kansas.  Or Oz.  My husband has used the snowblower on the driveway four times in the last three days, and our vehicles have been stuck in the driveway at least twice.  Once a car wouldn’t start due to battery issues.

As a kid, I had a very romantic notion of the wind from children’s books.  Winnie the Pooh and The Wind the Willows.  Such beautiful illustrations. Funny and touching. 

But southern Wyoming has the highest sustained winds in the continental United States.  That’s why we have such a burgeoning industry of wind farms.  It’s due the venturi effect, where the mountains squeeze toward each other like a garden hose and shoot the air through. 

But this morning is calm and sunny and people are out shoveling their walks.  A wonderful calm after the storm.  So in honor of our frequent visitor, here’s Percy Bysshe Shelley’s "Ode to the West Wind."

Ode to the West Wind


I

O WILD West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes! O thou
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill;

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear!

II

Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning! there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Mænad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: O hear!

III

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull'd by the coil of his crystàlline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss, and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!

IV

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! if even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem'd a vision—I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
O! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee—tameless, and swift, and proud.

V

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
Like wither'd leaves, to quicken a new birth;
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

February 22, 2012

Authenticity

I’ve been thinking about authenticity lately, so I thought today I would cogitate a bit on it. Bear with me.

As a teenager, I did what all teenagers do, which is to try on personalities.  I didn’t know “who I was,” perhaps more than most, so I would see a TV show or read a book and think, that’s really cool, and I would try on whatever characteristics I liked.  Did I want to be cool and witty and sophisticated, or did I want to be brainy and sincere, or did I want to be a cowgirl (pronounced “cah-gerl”)?

I couldn’t be my authentic self because I didn’t know what that authentic self was.  I say that I was perhaps worse than most because I secretly believed I was invisible until I was in my mid-twenties.  I wasn’t good at much, though I was smart, and when I was young I didn’t take a lot of baths or wear cool clothes or anything.  I was also painfully needy and sincere.  It felt like I was always the uncool person, the one on the outside looking in.

So it came as a revelation to me in my mid-twenties that just by being somewhat confident ~ or even acting confident ~ and asserting myself, I made myself cool.  It had more to do with my attitude than my clothes or what I thought I was or wasn’t.

Authenticity in this context is figuring out your tendencies and proclivities and likes and dislikes and being true to them.  It sounds sort of nebulous, and when you’re a teen it’s hard to hold onto, but I really think that’s true.

Because if you spend your life trying to be someone else, you’ll never get to know the person you really all, which is a real waste.  You are the only you in the world. Seriously.  You have so much to offer. 

But even beyond that, denying something you basically are is really corrosive and can eat you up from the inside.  Being gay and hiding it and playing straight is certainly an example, but also other things.  When I was young, I wanted to be male, but only because being female had little worth.  That’s much like being gay ~ you don’t associate with others of your kind and you try really hard to play the opposite and you hate yourself for it all.

Being authentic in your writing is much the same thing.  Readers can tell.  I think your work is so much better when you write “the real you.”  Oh, it can be science fiction or magical realism or whatever, but the emotions and thoughts have to be real.  It has to have an internal logic.  Not only that, but I think the best writing comes from writing about what embarrasses you, what is painful, what really gets to you.  Maybe that’s because those pinch points, those denials, that shameful self, is in some ways the most authentic self, the self that has been denied.

I think our development as writers follow the same path.  We imitate and that’s how we learn who we really are as a writer.

Authenticity in writing takes huge amounts of courage.  You have to lay yourself bare to the world.   But they will love you for it, and your writing will shine because of it.  As Steve Almond says, “Run screaming toward the shame.”

February 21, 2012

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita


Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns. ~ Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Lolita is another book that I love and hate at the same time, much like Portnoy's Complaint. Humbert Humbert is so skeezy, but it’s such lovely prose you are seduced by him.

But, yesterday, I came across a video of Nabokov talking about his favorite cover of Lolita.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a video of him.  But what I love is that you can hear the lovely pronunciation of the name “Lolita” as he says it.  The description so matches his voice.

For your viewing pleasure.



Thank you, Open Culture!

PS I am reminded of the end of "Bullet in the Brain" by Tobias Wolf: "They is, They is, They is."

February 20, 2012

Pembroke Sinclair Reading at Second Story, Wed, Feb 22, at 7 p.m.

This is in Laramie, Wyoming.

That Green-eyed Monster



I mentioned on Friday the great piece in Poets & Writers called “Writer Envy” by Maura Kelly. She begins by talking about one particular writer friend whom she calls Nabokov.  He’s a really nice guy and a great writer and, although he and Maura started at basically the same place, he has had a meteoric rise.  At first Maura was so excited and happy for him, but then it devolved into that green-eyed monster, jealousy. 

In general, I’m not a jealous person.  I don’t know why that is.  But of course I have experienced jealousy in my life, and almost invariably it’s been associated with a guy.

I haven’t been jealous because of my husband hardly at all.  Little twinges now and then associated with female colleagues, but never with his many female friends, even the one he calls mi amour.  That’s because it’s way in his past and, more importantly, because I really feel assured of my place in his life.  I never get that feeling where he radiates wishy washy.  You know this one all too well ~ where you have a gut feeling that your friend or partner has something on their mind, something ambivalent about you.  There’s not that many outward signs, but you just know it, and it’s always true, whether you trust your gut or talk yourself out of it. 

There was another time in my life, though, that I was awash in jealousy.  Not just jealousy but all the other feelings that come with a breakup ~ pain, self-pity, anguish, anger, possibly even a bit suicidal.  It was over my last boyfriend before my future husband and I started dating.  This was a man that I fell head over heels for, so deeply I lost myself.  I had a long history of losing myself in men because I gained all my self-worth from that association, but in this particular case, it was the deepest and most desperate of attachments.  (I love my husband deeply too, but it’s different. After this man, I developed a little bit of a thick skin, finally, after all that time. I learned how to protect myself a bit, and it came more slowly. It's much richer ~ and much more healthy.) 

So what happened is that the man came back from a summer away and indicated his ambivalence about our relationship.  I totally understand why he wanted out.  I was a basket case in so many ways. Only he didn’t break up with me ~ out of kindness on his part I’m sure.  It was me who finally broke up with him.  I drove 400 miles to where he had moved and said, “If you don’t come back, we’re over.”  He said, “I don’t take ultimatums well.  You know what you’re saying, right?” I said, “Yep,” and that was it. I drove the 400 miles back home.

But what really got me was that it wasn’t another woman.  It wasn’t any one particular thing.  It was just that he didn’t want me.  I was so jealous I couldn’t see straight, but I had no one thing to pin it on.  This generalized jealousy, combined with all the other things I was feeling, destroyed me.

Maura talks about this, about how her jealousy was both focused on Nabokov and also on all writers in general. Nabokov had gotten a book published and had received all kinds of awards.  What finally helped her was poet Mark Doty at the Whiting Award ceremony.  He said that all writers at all levels are jealous and “I believe the remedy for artistic bitterness is immersion on the present, in the joyful, continuing struggle of making something.  You keep the challenges new, you solve the problems a new way, you do what you don’t know how to do yet, and you’ll stay awake in your spirit, and it won’t matter quite as much what anyone things.”  Maura goes on to talk about how she focused more on her own writing and less on what others were doing and it helped. 

There are a number of great posts on the internet about writerly jealousy.  Here are a few:

·         Miram at Dystel & Goderich
·         The piece Miriam references at Writer’s Relief
·         The great great piece by the wonderful superlative Dear Sugar
·         I talk a bit about jealousy in my 5 days of talking about thankfulness

I love Maura’s tips that helped her overcome her jealousy.  Instead of just working hard, she began working smart ~ she didn’t have a lit degree, so she focused more on reading the greats and applying that.  She also tried to remember what she loved about writing, that passion.  She began keeping a diary, which fed rather than detracted from her other writing.  It all had the effect of actually making her more humble and took the focus away from others. 

The epilogue to the breakup story is that, after I lay weeping on the floor for what seemed like forever, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and thought, this is ridiculous.  Then I went through a serious I-am-woman-hear-me-roar phase.  I started working out, I started looking forward to confrontation and saying “no” because it meant I was asserting myself, and I even started reading 12-step inspirational daily meditations and journaling furiously.  I’m a much better person for it all, and I have that ex to thank. 

PS The green-eyed monster above is from a great post by the writer Elena Aitken.

February 17, 2012

Desirable Advertising


I received the latest copy of Poets & Writers last night, and of course it was what I read as I relaxed in a hot bubble bath.  Some great stuff, as always.  A profile of the lovely Cheryl Strayed, who is also Dear Sugar, about her forthcoming memoir Wild. A great piece by ~ oh no! I've forgotten her name! ~ about jealousy that turns into a great piece about dedication to the art.

But also an observation.  Poets & Writers and the The Writer's Chronicle are almost the only periodicals in which I avidly read the advertisements right along with the text.  I literally read it cover to cover. The ads, instead of being annoying wastes of space, are rife with possibility and information.  Oh! So he's teaching at that school and at those three conferences?  Boy, he gets around!  She's got a new book out. Yay!  Hmm.  That's an interesting possibility.  I could send something there or approach it that way.  When I first read P&W I was overwhelmed by all that I didn't know, but now I know a lot of the names either personally or online or I know of them. Now it feels like a community and inspiration out in this wilderness that is the world.

PS Maura Kelly writes that great piece mentioned above.

February 16, 2012

"When I Consider How My Light Is Spent," by John Milton

To follow up on yesterday's post, this lovely poem.


Sonnet 19


When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask; But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies “God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

February 15, 2012

My Great Friend and Mentor Caroline McCracken-Flesher


The first class I took from Caroline McCracken-Flesher was a sixteenth and seventeenth century British survey class, in which we read Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and John Donne, Philip Sidney and Samuel Pepys, Alexander Pope and Milton. It was in a sterile classroom in the engineering building, right by the stairs, but it had a lot of windows.  I remember lots light, and not just from the windows!

Caroline is a petite woman, but she fills a room.  She’s fun and intelligent and passionate about what she does.  I remember being intimidated at first, but that quickly changed when she held us to a high standard but made impenetrable Milton absolutely fascinating.  (Confession: I still have not read more than a couple of pages of Milton's Paradise Lost, though to this day I love the poem “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent.” It’s even more poignant now as I age.)

Caroline is originally from Ireland, I believe, but she attended Oxford and Edinburgh and Brown.  Her work is about how Scotland maintains its cultural and political identity, both historically and contemporarily, and also connected to issues of place in Wyoming.  Like so many wonderful professors she serves in all kinds of other capacities, and right now she’s head of the English Department. She’s won scads of awards for her teaching and published and edited all kinds of things.

I also took the nineteenth century novel and our capstone class about theory from her. Can you imagine: she made theory fun and interesting in ways that many teachers might make it nothing but a muddle. We applied theory to movies and to cool books like Frankenstein and had a whole party at her beautiful home for Halloween based on theory.  We did mock-teachings and held a mini conference.  We talked about important things like “And Just Exactly What Are We Going To Do With An English Bachelor's?” I remember in one class, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had just come out, and she spent half of class reading the Mirror of Erised scene and talking about mirrors and what they mean.

And ~ AND! ~ she taught me close reading, the single most valuable skill an English major can acquire.  It’s like you learn to translate your own language.  Instead of English being this flat one-to-one correspondence, it flowers into this magical puzzle of possibility.  So amazing.

It didn’t stop there.  When I went on to get my master’s, I had three full changes of committee.  That’s three people times three. The final reason it changed was that I didn’t get my thesis done for May graduation so the defense extended into the summer, and my professors were gone.  I was doing my thesis on identity in 1850s pioneer diaries, and even though Caroline’s specialty is Scottish literature, she stepped up at the last minute to be on my committee.  (As did Beth Loffreda and Phil Roberts.  Thank you all so much!)  She was the one that turned me on the identity theories of Homi Bhabha, which gave me direction when I needed it most.

So this is a GREAT BIG THANK YOU to my great friend and mentor Caroline McCracken-Flesher. I wanted to point out some of the great work she’s doing. 

Here’s a great book review in Scotland’s national newspaper about her book The Doctor Dissected: A Cultural Autopsy of the Burke and Hare Murders.  Here are her books Possible Scotlands: Walter Scott and the Story of Tomorrow and Scotland as Science Fiction.  She organized a great conference here in Laramie about the conjunction of Sir Walter Scott and the American West, in which the great Diana Gabaldon came and spoke. And, finally, here’s Caroline giving a great talk for Saturday University.  Enjoy!



February 13, 2012

Taken for Granted

I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time.  And when I would have to look at them day after day, each with his or her secret and selfish thought, and blood strange to each other blood and strange to mine, and think that this seemed to be the only way I could get ready to stay dead, I would hate my father for having ever planted me.  I would look forward to the times when they faulted, so I could whip them.  When the switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh; when it welted and ridged it was my blood that ran, and I would think with each blow of the switch: Now you are aware of me!  Now I am something in your secret and selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever. ~ the character Addie in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

The first time I read As I Lay Dying ~ for a class, as it happens ~ I loved it.  I took to it immediately.  It’s by far my favorite Faulkner.  If you don’t know, the “I” in the title refers to Addie, the mother of a backwoods family, and she lies dying throughout.  The novel is told in short chapters, each chapter a single point of view, with each returning.  We only get Addie’s point of view once two-thirds of the way through (Faulkner breaks all kinds of point of view rules and get away with it fabulously!).  I read and reread this section, trying to understand it, trying to assimilate it into everything else.

The paragraph above is from Addie’s section.  I had a hard time understanding this section.  She's talking about being a young person and a teacher but also about being a mother.  What did she mean, beating the kids to get them to notice her?  It sounds infantile and selfish and not at all what a mother would do.  Mothers, of course, were these infinitely patient people who didn’t have dark thoughts.

That, of course, was before I was a mother.  Yes, motherhood involves those beautiful and transcendent feelings that everyone talks about.  The clichés are all true.  But it also involves all kinds of other feelings, much darker, much more primal.  What parenthood forces you to do is to get out of your own self and selfishness. It sounds glib to say, but before you have kids, you can be selfish in oh so many ways.  Once you have kids, your self is taken away in ways large and small. On one hand, your id and ego scream bloody murder.  “What about MEEEEEE,” they scream.  But in another way you grow tremendously and transcend your previous self.  Ideally, you do ~ I guess I should say.

I was having a conversation on the phone with my wonderful mother-in-law when the twins were toddlers.  I was grousing a bit about how they just ignored me.  They would listen to their dad, but mom was totally taken for granted.  Then my mother-in-law said the wisest thing (did I mention she’s wonderful?):

Isn’t that the goal of being a mother, being a parent?  You want to raise them so that they become self-sufficient and they are able to take you for granted.

Isn’t that just the smartest thing?  Oh so true.  As a parent, if you are putting yourself first and being unpredictable, your kids can’t take you for granted and they can’t find a firm footing from which to spread their wings.  Oh, I don’t advocate letting them step all over you.  You have to get their attention sometimes and let them know boundaries.  But in general, you want to be the bedrock under their feet; “you are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

So back to the paragraph I started with.  Now I understand it.  Teachers are like mothers too.  They also work to be taken for granted, to be the bedrock under their pupils’ feet.  There’s more to that paragraph than simply this, but now I understand.

February 10, 2012

George Takei Is Hilarious



Who knew?  If you don't follow him on Facebook, you are missing out! A random sampling.











February 9, 2012

It's a Wonderful World

Yesterday at lunch, I came back to my office with a couple of slices of pizza and thought, Wouldn't it be great if there was one last soda in the fridge? and there was!  Today, driving in to work, Satchmo came on the radio.  It doesn't get any better than that.  What a wonderful world!

February 8, 2012

Okla Elliott

I got my copy of the litmag roger in the mail yesterday.  I love that I’ve been around long enough that almost every litmag I get I know a person or two on the contributors’ list.  I was thrilled to find Okla Elliott on roger’s list.  I’ve been reading his short story collection From the Crooked Timber and enjoying the heck out of it.  Check it out, if you get a chance.  Here’s a poem from roger.

Near the Ocean

by Okla Elliott

Why should the world laud
our sweet-grieved lives?
We swim our own silly graves—
lonely and lovely as a naked acrobat, spread out
for her mother’s show

                                         Near the ocean, in Argentina,
a woman I wanted to love me
                                                       —if only for that winter—
explained the mercy of waves, the mercilessness
of the rock wall.
                               I asked Do we drink the wave
or the water? wanting to be profound,
which I have assumed women prefer.
She said Neither, it is saltwater.
We laughed but didn’t have sex.

I walked to my small apartment—
the whole way pursued
by brick alleyways, drowning thoughts,
the wicked taste of the ocean.

February 7, 2012

Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell



So, Sunday I idly picked up Winter’s Bone to read as I put the kids down for a nap.  I didn’t put it down until the final page that evening.  What a great book!  What an amazing book!  Daniel Woodrell’s language is so precise yet muscular yet characteristic yet … It’s just amazing.  He calls his work Ozark noir, and it is.  I love how he rendered his 16-year-old female main character Ree.  She’s the country gals I know ~ tough but caring, practical.  I can’t read more of Daniel’s work.  But rather me going on and on, here’s a taste. 

Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat. Meat hung from trees across the creek. The carcasses hung pale of flesh with a fatty gleam from low limbs of saplings in the side yards. Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the far creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by rope from sagged limbs, venison left to the weather for two nights and three days so the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone.
Snow clouds had replaced the horizon, capped the valley darkly, and chafing wind blew so the hung meat twirled from jigging branches.  Ree, brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes, stood bare-armed in a fluttering yellowed dress, face to the wind, her cheeks reddening as if smacked and smacked again.  She stood tall in combat boots, scarce at the waist but plenty through the arms and shoulders, a body made for loping after needs. She smelled the frosty wet in the looming clouds, thought of her shadowed kitchen and lean cupboard, looked to the scant woodpile, shuddered.  The coming weather meant wash hung outside would freeze into planks, so she’d have to stretch clothesline across the kitchen above the woodstove, and the puny stack of wood split for the potbelly would not last long enough to dry much except Mom’s underthings and maybe a few T-shirts for the boys.  Ree knew there was no gas for the chain saw, so she’d be swinging the ax out back while winter blew into the valley and fell around her.

February 6, 2012

My Complaint

I’ve always known my sense of humor is off.  A lot of what people find hilarious, I empathize with and find really, really, really sad.  And poop humor really isn’t my kind of thing.  I’m not humorless, by any stretch ~ at least I don’t think I am.  I find Terry Pratchett books hilarious and I love the humor in All Creatures Great and Small.  I don’t know why this is or where it comes from.  Nature or nurture? Who knows.

So, when I finished Portnoy’s Complaint, it actually made me a little angry.  I didn’t read ahead or anything, so it came as a total surprise.  What happens is this (SPOILER ALERT): You read this anguished and anguishing 274 pages where a very troubled guy talks to his psychiatrist.  Then this:

PUNCH LINE:  So [said the doctor] Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?


In one line it makes a joke of everything that went before.  It dismisses everything.  All that anguish I was feeling on behalf of a character I didn’t even like but who was very compelling.  I felt taken advantage of.  If you don’t even take yourself seriously, why should I and why did I just spend all this emotional energy and time?

I’m sure this is the point in some ways.  The encapsulation of all that went before.  To the very end, the character refuses to change, though he does try but can’t see past his own blinders.  He makes a joke of it.  And in a larger sense, it’s because I am that Midwestern girl he yearned for but ultimately could not understand.  I believe in human dignity and treating others well and all that that he can’t see beyond his own selfishness.  He’s the same thing as Humbert Humbert in Lolita in so many ways.  The whole world is subverted for his selfish needs.  He doesn’t actually rape the girl at the end, but he would have if he could. Does the fact that he couldn’t get him off the hook?

Is this book an indictment of a particular brand of Jewish culture? Or is it merely a very well-done enactment of one person’s rabbit hole of self?  You tell me.  I imagine I’m not saying anything new and that people have said this all before.

Overall, I guess I’m saying I respect this book ~ I love the style of it and the complexity and depth and the refusal to bend to what people want an ending to be.  But I really don’t like this book.

February 3, 2012

Rebecca Tillett, Photographer and Artist

I just love coming across fabulous new (to me) artists.

My latest and greatest?  Rebecca Tillett.  She does these amazing photos and graphic designs! 

(Warning: if you’re touchy about nudity, you might want to proceed cautiously, but you’re going to miss some good stuff.) 

Here is some of her work.






And more here on her Flickr stream.

About Rebecca.

Sometimes, I have the tendency to just completely drift off in the middle of a conversation. Someone once told me I have the greatest laugh but I don’t remember who. I’m terrible with faces AND names. I’ll always ask for a new name at least twice. The first time’s a courtesy, the second is to commit it to memory. I can be extremely unambitious. I’m lucky to have a husband that is the opposite or I’d be calling a box in someone’s backyard my home. But that’d give me something to whine about. Because apparently, I love to whine. If you’ve fallen completely down, you have no where to go but up – I always say. I’m extremely organized but not extremely clean. If my DVDs aren’t alphabetized, it’s the end of the world but a sink full of dirty dishes? Shoot, I’ll get to it tomorrow. I love quotations and am always looking for an excuse to use them. After all “When a thing has been said and well, have no scruple. take it and copy it.” I display obvious signs of OCD with only a few certain things: Where I’ve left my keys when I get home, whether or not I locked the door, whether or not I turned off and unplugged my hair-straightener, and stopping the gas pump in integers of 5 in the cents Amount display. Sometimes it’s impossible for me to spend a day doing nothing. My husband calls me “Busy” (He shortened Becky to “B’ which evolved to “Busy Bee” which has now evolved to just “Busy.”) I’m an only child and developed quite an active imagination as a result. I’m very content being alone but not for long. I’m a citizen of two countries: the United States and Australia. I’m not very close with my family. I don’t have a large family. I will never be someone’s aunt and will probably never be someone’s mother. I own my own home. It’s beautiful and colorful. I recently discovered I love crab cakes despite my aversion to shelled creatures (creepy!). Besides shrimp, I hate all other seafood. I’ve been with my husband for 11.5 years and it literally feels like half that (where is time going?). I have 50% hearing loss in the mid-frequencies in both ears. I’m afraid that people think I’m rude when really, I just didn’t hear them. I’ve gotten to the age where I don’t remember it anymore. (27? 28? Let’s see 2011 minus 1982….). I don’t have much confidence and when I feign it, I’m always fearful someone will figure it out and send a memo out to everyone on the planet. I’m attracted to both men and women but am very selective over women (too short, too smiley, too fake, too pretty). I’ve never wanted a “house on the beach.” I love the smell of rain in the desert. I love big cities but dislike people especially in large quantities. I went to college for 3 years and somewhere in there earned an Associate Degree. I’m one-year into a Bachelor’s. That was 7 years ago. I love to listen to Billie Holiday and reminisce over times long before my own.


Oh, you mean not really about her but what people want to know?


Rebecca Tillett is a graphic designer and photographer currently residing in the beautiful state of Colorado with her husband and two feisty cats. Her work usually rides the thin line between grit, quirky fashion, and the fashionably nude. Tillett has been shooting since the age of 16 — her favorite subjects are naked females, and her favorite sets are anywhere but a studio. She found early inspiration in photographers like Chas Ray Krider, Natacha Merritt, Guy Bourdin and David LaChapelle, and she continues to be inspired by television, celebrities, religion, contemporary artists such as Jaime Ibarra and Chris Anthony, the lurking shadows of society, friends, prude America, illustrators, and anything nostalgic, old, abandoned or left behind. Tillett has been the feature of several one-woman shows, most recently at the Mondo Bizzarro Gallery in Rome, Italy in 2010. She has also participated in many collaborative shows, domestic and international. In addition to many online features, she has also appeared in publications such as New York Arts Magazine, Psychologies Magazine, Grafuck Book 4, The 2010 Drawgasmic collaborative book, The Best of Black and White (Delius Producing), The New Erotic Photography (Taschen Publishing), and most recently, The Mammoth Book of New Erotic Photography (Maxim Jakubowski).

And here is Rebecca herself.


Isn’t she cool?  And you know what else is cool?  We’re related!  I didn’t know that until a couple of days ago.

Great things for you in the future, Rebecca!

February 2, 2012

So, You Change Your Own Tires?


I was thinking this morning about how I used to only buy cars with stick shifts. Can you guess the reason? If you’re from a poor background, you probably can.

You see, you can’t push a car and pop the clutch to get it started on an automatic. This is something you know only if you perpetually have very old broken down vehicles. You have old batteries and engines with shorts. All kinds of other reasons.

One time, I was driving late at night on the interstate, and I got so tired I just couldn’t drive anymore, so I stopped at a truck pullout and slept, diesels rumbling all around me. Well, the car was packed to the brim, so it left a back light on and my battery ran down. Luckily, I was parked on a slight hill. Unluckily, the hill was against traffic. So, rather than an 18-year-old gal knock on some trucker’s semi door at 3 a.m., I waited until I couldn’t see a truck coming for a long ways, I let the car coast backward until the momentum carried me back and turned around, then I let it coast forward (backward on the interstate), popped the clutch, it started, and I flipped back around and was on my way.

God, I hope my daughter or my son is never in a situation like this.

You also buy very cheap tires. Which means it doesn’t matter if you’re a “lady” you change them, unless you want to be doing a lot of walking. And certainly someone in this situation never had the money for AAA. One summer, I was in our old Ford irrigation truck and got a flat tire on a dusty side road. It was one of those tall ones with the long beds. The tires hadn’t been changed in forever, so I jacked it up and put on the star tire iron and it would not budge, no matter how hard I tried to get the nuts to break. I ended up finding a can of WD-40 in the cab and squirting them all and then, literally, standing and jumping on one end of the iron while I pulled with the other. Finally I got it to work and changed the tire. And I swear I changed a tire a day on my old Chevy Impala when I was in high school.

But this indicates something in a larger and deeper sense. (One thing that got me thinking about this was this page at Cracked, semihumorous but also very real.) Imagine only buying vehicles with stick shifts because you don’t trust all the newfangled stuff to work ~ cuz, you know, it doesn’t after that amount of time. Heck, I didn’t even trust power windows because they so often didn’t work. It may seem silly to you ~ why don’t you just buy one that works? ~ but I assure you it’s not silly at all. If you have to choose between a car that’s reliable and say food, you’ll probably choose food. You say, well, go without insurance for a month or something like that, make it work. Well, again, you probably don’t even have insurance. I have relatives who, within the last couple of years, are living on $10,000-$15,000 a year.

But back to the deep and abiding ways poverty changes you. When you go to the grocery store, you only get the cheapest and barest of necessities in small quantities and you feel guilty about that. The small quantities and cheap thing are definitely a problem because what you buy breaks or isn’t at all good for you and you’re always running out of everything, and so you actually may end up spending more for something because you can’t afford to buy a good one all at one time.

This is a small-scale indication of something much larger. You do not allow yourself to dream. At all. You just don’t. When my husband and I got together, I did even conceive of the idea that we would own a house ~ or that we could ~ whereas he took it for granted. He could dream it and believe it because he was from a better background (though his father was not). Because you know, if you can’t afford to get enough groceries, you certainly are not going to be able to afford a better car or college or even to own a house. You do not dream the American Dream.

And it is a platitude and a reality that if you do not dream it, you cannot achieve it. This is where it comes back to creative things. You don’t just hold back on things related to money. You also hold back in other ways large and small. I can say that I would not be a writer today, had my husband not shown me the way to dream.

I love you, honey.