Monthly Archives: October 2012

ISBN: 0-517-70926-0

Pockets by Jennifer Armstrong and Illustrated by Mary GrandPré

This is going to be another short post because it seems I’ve caught a small case of the bipoles*, and I have trouble focusing for long periods. There’s no need to worry—with the help of friends and family, I sought medication to treat the symptoms the same way one would treat flu symptoms.

I wanted to write about the second half of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, but with thoughts careening through my mind so fast that I have trouble reading, I thought it better to pair this week’s post with Pockets, a children’s book written by Jennifer Armstrong and illustrated by Mary GrandPré.

The trouble with reading right now is comprehension, but the beautiful thing about this book is that I found myself languishing in the soft sounds of words I haven’t heard before. I did read this book three years ago, but I didn’t remember the words, one-by-one, and I loved the way I imagined them sounding, billowing, and bending in the cavern of my mind.

And then there were the illustrations: Seas of color swirling around, all so vivid that I imagined myself getting lost between the grainy hues.

“She sewed barkentines, ships of the line, brigs, dhows, triremes, and caravels; cays, lagoons, and scalloped beaches; the astrolabe, the sextant, and the binnacle, each in perfect miniature, her stitches straining ahead against the current and her eyes narrowed on the horizon.” -Jennifer Armstrong

Husband read the book aloud to me, helping me untangle the mystery of the story, but it was exhausting trying to understand, so we set the book aside and went for a walk. The valley was wet with fresh rain and like the illustrations of Pockets, I found myself lost in the grainy hues of this world.

I wish I had a way to connect these thoughts, and bring this post to a neat ending, but I do not. The only thing I can say for certain is that there is a true gift in being able to live in the moment.

Dang these bipoles, ain’t no body got time for that.

*This means I’m rapidly cycling though a bout of mania/depression/anger/sadness. For more information read here.

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Love Letter To Sarah

Sorry my post is late this week! I’ve been a bit under the weather these past few days. This week I guest blogged for Sarah Turner. You can read my post right here:  http://sarahinsmalldoses.wordpress.com/ .

 

 

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ISBN 13:0-374-51536-2 (Part I of II)

Reading a Flannery O’Connor story is like getting a karate chop in the tits. I know that is foul, immature, and shocking, but it’s true. Imagine yourself, driving in your car, raking leaves, throwing out trash, or perhaps you’re at work doing work things and then—WHAM! Karate chop in the tits! Out of nowhere, for no reason. That’s what reading a Flannery O’Connor story is like. Just like that.

I believe Flannery meant to make her readers uncomfortable.

She was uncomfortable.

Instead of writing for her generation, she wrote about her generation.

I discovered Flannery from KC. After reading my mangled thesis, he seemed (to me) understandably confused. To him, my shorter work was stronger, and he compared it to Flannery and Carver. I knew Carver, one can’t get through an MFA class without knowing that guy, but who was this Flannery?

After reading her complete collection, I am humbled by KC’s compliment.

What I saw in her work was how she experimented with characters, how they twisted and changed from story to story. How old men became young boys and how much the point of view changes a story. I saw all the tendrils of humanity evenly distributed between characters, with ignorance and egotism reigning supreme.

I saw that humanity frustrated Flannery because she was a part of it. It’s clear on the page that she saw herself in others. When she wrote these stories, she became old, young, male, female, black, white, rich, and poor. She understood that those who could not imagine themselves any other way but the way they were born taught, bred, and spread discrimination.

The more I studied her stories, the more I sensed something else: Flannery was dying.

And she was mad about it.

And she didn’t understand why socially backward fools got to outlive her.

And this made her feel guilty.

As soon as I figured this out, I read the introduction* by Robert Giroux, and then I dashed off E-mail to EH. Here is some of the conversation, reprinted with EH’s permission (I intended the E-mail font to be in American typewriter, but contain your squeals of joy because there is no American typewriter font in wordpress):

It was one of those days, all sunny and warm, and the birds were chirping, and the water was glistening, well you get it, and I kept thinking to myself, and to Flannery, what does that feel like to know you are dying, really dying? I wasn’t trying to be romantic, I was just trying to figure out how that would be, to live like that.

And this came to me, which, really isn’t new or anything, but I started to understand about the great writers of that generation- they lived through these horrible wars, and this horrible devastation, and that is why their literature is so bleak and sad and real and honest; they thought they were dying, but us, our generation, our story, in my mind anyway, is about hope and love and courage and change. Yes, we are honest and we are real, but we don’t know that violence, so our stories have to be a symbol of hope.

And it occurred to me, via you and Flannery, that there are two types of people in the world, those who know they are dying and just accept it and those who fight it.

EH’s response:

I’d forgotten that Flannery died young (39). [Your observation] certainly puts her sense of fatalism and the grotesque in a new light. Lupus really, really fucks you up – your own body attacks you without warning and you’re trapped within it, unable to fight back, and she watched her father die from it, so she knew exactly what she was in for.

I think we should call any emotions connected to Flannery “Flannerfeels.” Like, “This is giving me a lot of Flannerfeels right now.”

– – – – – End Communication – – – – – 

You can read “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” here. And see if it gives you “FLANNERFEELS.”

You can also read about Lupus here.

And then you can read “A Girl And A Goat,” my story that was published this week at Sleet Magazine here.  This story isn’t about social justice. It’s about Poland. And a goat. I identify most closely to the fat sweaty man at the market. If you see any connection between me and Flannery, let me know.

I’m officially dedicating “Girl And A Goat” –my first published short story— to Maggie Bak, MB, for her 30th birthday. Sto lat! Sorry I’m the type of friend who tries to karate chop you in the tits.

Thank you to Susan Solomon (SK) who was inspired enough by “Girl And A Goat” to paint this picture of the dandelion field. It’s like the damn circle of life around here, everyone creating out of inspiration by everyone else . . .

Thank you Flannery for teaching me how to write about social justice in a way that makes it all a little less sad. Someday there will be a cure not only for Lupus, but for and racism, sexism, classism, and all other ‘isms.’

“The birds had gone into the deep woods to escape the noon sun and one thrush, hidden some distance ahead of him, called the same four notes again and again, stopping each time after them to make a silence.” –Flannery O’Connor, “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead”

Maybe I do see the connection. We both listened to the call of the thrush.

Sorry this post started to sound like an acknowledgements page at the end. For those of you who don’t have tits—

Swift kick in the balls!

I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.

*I often save the introduction for last so my opinions of the work won’t be tainted.

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ISBN 978-0-87013-979-6

Love is the quietest of all things.

I suspected this when I first started reading Beso The Donkey Poems by Richard Jarrette back in May. When I finished reading the poems this week, I knew this truth.

Beso The Donkey found its way into my life because I admitted to SS that I liked poetry, but I just didn’t get it. It sounded bad. An MFA graduate still eluded by verse, but SS didn’t judge. She directed me to the book because it was “sweet as can be, even for those of us who are downright afraid of poetry.”

The question, “Why bother with relationships you know will end?” was on my mind when I started reading the book. Fifteen poems in, I had to set Beso aside to write a short story, just to answer the question.

Then I forgot all about Beso until this weekend when I ran into KS and we spoke of passion, chainsaws, and poetry.

KS: What people just don’t get is that poetry is all around us from the start. People think that their first exposure is when they get to seventh or eighth grade and some teacher pushes a poem on them, but I mean, just think of music, of all those lyrics we’ve been hearing . . .

I took up Beso again. This time I headed down to the Minnesota River Valley where I sat on a log and read the book front to back with the changing autumn leaves. Jarrette showed me a donkey that could gaze with the tragic dignity of Abraham Lincoln, a stream of gold that poured from his backlit silhouette, and the lingering record of Beso’s tracks in the mud as a lost civilization. All I had to do was look down in the dry riverbed, and I could imagine Beso plodding along beside me.

Jarrette wrote, “oaks feel a tiny shiver when a moth sighs.”

And in this sentence I knew, really knew, just how love is the quietest of all things.

 

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UPDATES

Since today’s post is just a couple of updates, I decided not to pair the post with a book. Sorry!

The first bit of news is that Breezy Books nominated me for this award:

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers 

Thank you so much, Maddie. I feel like I’m NEVER nominated for anything, so I gladly accept.  According to the rules for this award, I must nominate five other bloggers for the award and state seven things about myself. Here goes:

Other girls you may want to check out are:

Sarah In Small Doses 

Fifty Rows Up

Some Stolen Moments

Square Candies That Look Round

How To Spy On Birds

& Seven things about me:

  1. I love to take long baths. For hours. I refill the tub when the water gets cold. I love baths so much that I even have an antique claw foot bathtub in my back yard, but it’s not for bathing. I hope to make it into a planter for an herb garden next spring.
  2. Do you know those claw games that you see in arcades that drop down and grab a toy? When I play them, I win. A lot. It’s a skill that never ceases to impress small children.
  3. I drive around an old bike named Chester. I am convinced the bicycle has magical powers because no matter how far I ride, it only takes me half as long to get home as it takes me to get to a place. IE: If I take a two-hour drive on winding country roads, I will be able to make it home in only one hour.
  4. I have a crush on Stevie Nicks.
  5.  I once went on a date to a Beastie Boys concert where the guy asked me to tailgate before hand and have Caribou in the parking lot. Great! Who doesn’t love coffee? When I got there, I realized he meant Caribou the animal, not Caribou with caffeine. Woops!
  6. I have an addiction to ginger candy and tea.
  7.  Mary GrandPré, the illustrator for the Harry Potter series, hand painted the back room of my house.

The second bit of news is that I will be scaling back from two posts a week, to just one post on Thursday mornings. I have some thick books in the collection that will require a bit more reading time, and now that the blog is established, I would like to spend a bit more time on my writing.

Happy October!

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