Thursday, February 26, 2009

On Wordiness

I was just chatting with my sister about her blog. She is amazing at being able to communicate a lot with photos and short amounts of clever and interesting prose. I was lamenting my utter lack of pithiness. I can never say anything in just a few words if a lot of words will do.

When we were talking, I remembered an incident from my childhood. When I was in first or second grade, we had to write a bit about all the books we read. I can't remember if it was to fill in the bookworm that wound its way around our classroom, with each body segment a separate book title, or if it was an index card per book, both of which I did at certain points. Then I remembered a conversation with my mom about a book that I haven't thought of in years. Incident at Hawk's Hill. I laughed so hard when I told my sister what it was about, because it just sounded so funny. It's about a boy being raised by badgers. And then I looked it up, and sure enough, the cover has a big badger on it.

I must have been impacted by the book--I still remember thinking that it was based on a true story. When my mom read my summary of the book on either the caterpillar body or the index card, she asked me if I could leave out a certain part. "NO! These parts are so important! I can't leave them out!"

That is the way I've always been. I can't separate the essential from the extra very well.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

My Life With the Saints

I've only just started this, but am captivated. In this book, a Jesuit priest writes about how various saints have influenced his life in varied circumstances.

A couple of things I have really liked so far:

This is from his introduction--

Gradually, I found myself growing fonder of these saints and developing a tenderness toward them. I began to see them as models of holiness relevant to contemporary believers, and to understand the remarkable ways that God works in the life of individuals. Each saint was holy in his or her unique way, revealing how God celebrates individuality.

And he quotes Walt Whitman:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Guaranteed Laugh

I am so glad Damon and Carlton are back.
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Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri has gotten a lot of critical acclaim, rightly deserved. I enjoyed her newest collection of short stories. They were exquisitely crafted, but mostly depressing. They weren't really about immigrations, but more about immigrants and the cultural disconnect that occurs between generations, as well as between those that leave their country (India, in this case) and those that remain.

She takes her title from a passage by Nathaniel Hawthorne:

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.

However, it seemed to be that none of her characters really flourished in their unaccustomed earth, so I wondered about the title. A NYTimes reviewer theorizes that it isn't so much a statement as a question for Lahiri. "Is it true that transplanting strengthens the plant? Or can such experiments produce mixed outcomes?"

In the end, while the stories are beautifully written, I found them depressing. Maybe I'm too conditioned to want a happy ending. I think I would have been satisfied with just one happy ending, but there were none to be had.

In "Unaccustomed Earth", she tells the story of pregnant Bengali woman newly relocated with her husband to Seattle, whose father comes to visit. They are unable to communicate about the death of his wife and her mother. And he leaves without any resolution or increased emotional closeness.

"Only Goodness" is about a woman and alcoholic brother, and the havoc he wreaks in her life.

I had read some of the stories about Hema and Kaushik in the New Yorker earlier. This section consisted of three inter-related stories taking place over the course of 25 years. I had high hopes for a happy ending here, but instead, it was the most tragic. I had bad dreams all night after finishing these.

I like this description, from another NYTimes review:

Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters tend to be immigrants from India and their American-reared children, exiles who straddle two countries, two cultures, and belong to neither: too used to freedom to accept the rituals and conventions of home, and yet too steeped in tradition to embrace American mores fully. These Indian-born parents want the American Dream for their children — name-brand schools, a prestigious job, a roomy house in the suburbs — but they are cautious about the pitfalls of life in this alien land, and isolated by their difficulties with language and customs. Their children too are often emotional outsiders: having grown up translating the mysteries of the United States for their relatives, they are fluent navigators of both Bengali and American culture but completely at home in neither; they always experience themselves as standing slightly apart, given more to melancholy observation than wholehearted participation.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Just because

I love this picture, taken by a friend on Thanksgiving.
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My Guaranteed Smile

I don't know if it's the middle-of-winter-doldrums, PMS, or something else, but last week was not a good one for me. I stomped out of the house leaving the kids and mess behind for AJ to deal with at least a couple of times.

But, as angry as I have felt, this little guy can always manage to get a smile out of me, a distinction no other member of my family can claim.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Ironing as Therapy

When I was about 10 or 12, I don't remember exactly when, my mom taught me the fundamentals of ironing. Instead of using shirts, she started me on pillowcases and my dad's handkerchiefs. They were nice and flat and easy to do well. For quite a while, my job was to iron the pillowcases and handkerchiefs that came through the wash.

I have mostly given up ironing. AJ does all his own shirts, and was happy to get a new iron with a retractable cord for Christmas. I rarely will iron a shirt placket and collar if needed, but my level of "need" is very very low.

This morning, I was changing all the sheets. I pulled some clean ones out of the closet and started to put them on the bed. The whole set was very wrinkled. For some mysterious reason, the idea of having nice crisp sheets appealed to me and I took the flat sheet and pillowcases downstairs to iron them. I ended up ironing the top third of the flat sheet, along with the two pillowcases. It felt nice to just sit there doing something so mindless while ruminating on life.

It reminded me of two things.

1. When we were on a road trip a few years back and AJ spent half an hour coloring to perfection a princess picture.

2. A poem about a woman (maybe a black woman?) on a hot day doing her iron, and pressing out her problems. I spent a while trying to find this poem online, but couldn't locate it. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

I am quite certain that I won't be turning to ironing again any time soon, but it felt nice to be in control of something, albeit a very small something.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Confrontations with a 4 Year Old

Statement: "I don't like you!"
Frequency: It feels like at least 10 times per day, becoming more frequent the past week
Face: Cheeks flushed, teeth clenched, often tears streaming
Cause: Anything I ask him to do that he doesn't want to.
My reaction: Heart palpitations, knot of anger in my stomach.
Improvement on my part: Raised voice not quite as often
More improvement needed: Complete non-reaction
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Dear John Adams

After waiting 6 months for your number to come my way via the library, I am supposed to watch all 7 hours in one week? I don't think I'm going to make it. I guess I need to borrow you from my sister or join Netflix.
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