Friday, November 20, 2015

Is Shame Necessary?

I am indeed enjoying and learning a lot from the book Is Shame Necessary? by Jennifer Jacquet. It looks like it is, as guilt is a private emotion, and shame has public uses. Jacquet does not advocate a return to public shaming devices like the stocks, but she does explain how shame can function in changing social norms.

The thing that struck me this morning was a quotation from an Atlantic article, by Michael J. Sandel, about the market society as distinct from the market economy. Jacquet quotes Sandel saying, "The difference is this: A market economy is a tool---a valuable and effective tool---for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor." Sigh.... Exactly!

This has been troubling me for some time. People are valued according to the amount of money they make, salary-wise, or money they bring in to an organization, even a non-profit organization, not according to their actual contribution of volunteer labor or organizational ideas or management or loyalty or care. Hence, often they are not valued at all, and are treated with disrespect or are valued less than, say, a "major donor" who might, say, give money but not actually attend the event, or complain about the seating or lighting.... See what I'm getting at? Hmm, it appears to be a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog. Put 'em in the stocks! (I'm missing a pun on stocks here. And thanks to Austen Redman for the image of stocks in Chapeltown, Lancashire, England!)

So, just to be clear, when I complain about the excesses of consumerism or capitalism, I guess I am talking about the "market society," the infiltration of money-based value into the rest of society and culture, not about the economic system itself, which has some things to commend it. But so does socialism. (I'm missing a Hillary pillory, feel the Bern joke here.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

As Nature Made Us

I've been immersed in nonfiction lately. My daughter needed As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, by John Colapinto, for a sociology course, so I checked it out from the library for her, renewed it, and read it myself. Wow! Truly, wow. Not only is the case fascinating, and the boy (now a man) a brave and beautiful soul, but the science, controversy, and internal conflict among scientists is eye-opening, too. I was struck when one scientist praised another for actually being more interested in the truth than in his career, which reminded me of earlier controversy connected to Sigmund Freud. We always think scientists, who often praise themselves for objectivity and the scientific method, are interested in truth, but, apparently, that's as rare in science as anywhere! Sigh....

Now I am reading Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool, by Jennifer Jacquet, in hopes of finding out whether, indeed, we can shame big business, careerist politicians, tyrants, and terrorists into changing their behavior. Hmm. She's a very clear writer, and, clearly, a scientist or social scientist interested in testing her hypotheses and backing up claims with evidence. So that's good.

Next up is Unsuspecting Souls: The Disappearance of the Human Being, by Barry Sanders, which appears to argue that "the human being," the individual we used to value and respect, "died" in the 19th century, and the 21st century's willingness to blow people up, for example, is part of that legacy. I must be seeking an explanation, if not consolation, for what goes on today. Yes, it's a fight against despair, a fight for understanding, and a "fight" for compassion. But how can we fight for compassion? Well, with words and actions and votes, I hope, since here in the USA we are coming up on an election year. Despite the fact that compassion is viewed as a weakness among many vociferous types in the USA, I still vote for it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Just Desserts

OK, for dinner last night I had two desserts: a piece of peach pie, fresh from the oven, yes, still warm (!), and a piece of German chocolate cake. Not small pieces, either. And a little champagne. I would have brought the French champagne, but it cost $50, so I brought the California champagne. This French and German-themed fare was offered at the meeting of our book group, to discuss All the Light We Cannot See. The peach pie was for the tinned peaches that Marie-Laure finds in the house, and the German chocolate cake was for the German occupation of France. Sigh...

After All the Light and Lila, I read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell, about turn of the (18th to 19th) century Japan, and how the Dutch East India Company managed to operate there despite a general policy of Japanese seclusion. Oh, it's about much more!--but that gives it a setting in time and place, somewhat unusual for David Mitchell, really!

As with All the Light, this Thousand Autumns shows beautifully how people behave--well and badly, motivated by greed or honor or lust or a crazy yearning for immortality or raw cruelty. I was deeply moved by the rare choices not to inflict harm or take vengeance. In both of these novels, there is great loss, and you hope that someone good will get to live a happy life. In these fictions, as in life, not everyone gets their "just desserts," but some do get their peaches.

And that makes it a Fat Tuesday on a Wednesday, the Hump of the Week. With Peaches and Leaves by Jonathan Koch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Right after I finished All the Light We Cannot See, I picked up Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, and read it in two days--the fastest I've ever read something by Robinson. I'd been eager to read it, as it completes a trio of her books set in the small Iowa town of Gilead, which Lila discovers to be a Biblical name after she marries a preacher. As with the other books, I was absolutely gripped by character, by the internal searching, by the simplicity of diction, which gets at the profundity of thought, longing, suffering, and joy. There is a balm in Gilead.

The book was at hand thanks to a fabulous-but-forgotten gift card I received for some committee work a couple years ago. Another, more recent gift card, also set aside for a rainy day, but not forgotten for quite so long, rescued me from running out of writing journals. I am grateful for all I am given, even the stuff I forget.

In case you can't read the small print, that blurb on the Lila cover says Robinson's prose contains "the high loneliness of an old blue grass tune." Yes! And look at those wildflowers. I yearn for my own back yard to look like that someday. Right now it is covered in red and yellow leaves, except for one bare spot I got on Tuesday afternoon. We got the front yard pretty well cleared, but it keeps coming down! As will the temperatures, all too soon...

Makes you want to curl up with a good book. I see that Marilynne Robinson has a new book of essays out, The Givenness of Things, but it may take me a while to get to that. Meanwhile, there's more dense fog in the weather prediction, so another beautiful cloaked morning to wake up in, and maybe another sunny afternoon for raking...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All the Light

I am reading All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, for book group. Hastening toward the ending. All the light here, on All Hallows' Eve, is yellow from the leaves or greeny blue, like the book cover, from the still-green leaves and the rainy weather. I am wearing my "costume"--an orange shirt with the black inscription, "This is my costume"--in preparation for the trick-or-treaters. It's the same shirt I wore to work yesterday, but with different pants and a different black shirt underneath, and new underwear (TMI). I am clean and thus vaguely hallowed.

Once again, I apologize for the long absence from this blog. I plead busy. And a midlife dedication to organization, cleaning out, recycling, regrouping, getting my head on straight. Yes, it's a bit like twisting a Jack-o-lantern, and sometimes with a similar grimace. Laundry, sorting of papers, burning of some. Why speak of work on a Slattern Day in the blog?

I am woefully behind in submissions. Some of you know I have attempted yearly to obtain 100 rejections, a fun way of assuring more than 100 submissions. This year I'm down to 5, with 3 rejections and 2 responses pending. It's much easier for a math-challenged person like me. I do have a chapbook forthcoming, but it seems suspended...and may forever be forthcoming. We'll see, won't we? Or...we cannot see.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Beautiful Ruins

This summer my son went to Italy, posting some pictures on Instagram that looked remarkably like the cover of this book, Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. My son's favorite place was Corniglia, and I knew exactly where it was, thanks to a Cinque Terre picture map that functions as a sort of frontispiece in the book. My son loved Italy, and I loved this book, which starts in Italy and then rambles through time and geography in a wonderful way, going to Hollywood and Idaho to somehow critique the twentieth century and bring us right up to date with the craziness of reality shows on tv. We also get to visit the filming of the successful flop Cleopatra (with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) and ponder what it means to be a real artist or to "sell out," as they say. I laughed and I sat mouth open in awe at the marvelous truths revealed in this funny novel. The characters are easy to love, despite their flaws (which is what I want from real life, too, and to be loved in that way), down to a character you love to hate and hate to love!

We are in the beautiful ruins of summer now, with seedheads feeding the birds and leaves beginning to fall. Real fall starts on the 23rd this year, my calendar tells me, coinciding with Yom Kippur. (Ah, I just re-watched the film Atonement, so I'm coinciding, too.) I'm collecting balsam seeds in envelopes, and soon it'll be time to transplant the vintage geranium back into a pot to bring indoors. Likewise, before the first frost I'll bring in the hanging pots of fucsia, to hang indoors from a curtain rod...

But I hope we have many weeks of warmth to come. And many blue skies.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Web of Middle Age

We are in the season of abundant and ginormous spiders. I keep walking into their webs. I try not to, of course, because they are so beautiful and the spider's temporary home and feeding ground, but it keeps happening. And the spiders just keep rebuilding their webs in the same exact spot.

Making us equally stupid, I guess.

This morning, headed out to work, I walked into the rebuilt web at our back gate, fending it off, once discovered, with the plastic sleeve of a DVD I was returning to the library, and the spider landed on my hand.

Big wiggle (from me), no bite (from it). Sigh...

I just finished Middle Age by Joyce Carol Oates, and I really liked it.* I need to read more Joyce Carol Oates, and, indeed, there is more, plenty more. She is prolific and varied, sort of like Michael Caine in the acting world, and I love Michael Caine! In this book, Oates looks at a range of people in middle age--a full range of ages within the middle--and how hard, how disruptive, how like the woes of Job this transition can be. It can devastate and transform, or both! These people are unified by place--Salthill-on-Hudson, in suburban New York--and inciting incident: the sudden death of one of them. And that one is philosophical, intelligent, curious, vigorous, and mysterious, somehow leading them all on a journey of self discovery and allowing them, somehow, to arrive at a more authentic place.

I am the right age to appreciate this book.

*I kept pondering her use of the word "oblivious" (as I keep thinking of oblivion as a deep forgetfulness, not a constant and casual unawareness) and wondering about whether it's "oblivious of" or "oblivious to," but beyond that trivial meandering of my mind, I was gripped. As if she were a large spider and I were her prey! Ack! Oh, no, am I, in truth, oblivious to/of the ginormous spider webs?!

Anyhoo, I recommend this book, if you, too, are in middle age and of a mind to appreciate it. I also recommend Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White, to anyone of any age at any time. (And he would have recommendations for you as to the use of the word "oblivious," etc.) (I think he might disapprove of that dangling "etc." and, in general, my use of parentheses.)

Ah, the DVD I was returning was The Turning, which is strangely and wonderfully pertinent, a dark and twisty film based on a book of short stories by Tim Winton, an Australian writer. Gorgeous, compelling, and long, but I was all wrapped up in it.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Call Off the Search

Thanks, dear hearts, for checking in with me, during these many weeks and months of not blogging! Nothing's up, nothing's wrong! I'm just in a waiting mode, or observing mode, or I'm filling up with something that will pour out soon. It's been a lovely, busy summer of family gatherings and extended "spring cleaning." I've been throwing my life away, as I like to put it, but that means, basically, recycling a ton of paper. (Maybe an actual ton? I hope not that much! Many, many rejected poems. And other stuff. Don't worry, I keep records. Er, too many records. Hence...)

I've been trying to track down a particular song I used to hear. Haven't found it, but I've found the voice who sang it: Katie Melua. And another song I love, by her: "Nine Million Bicycles." Here's the fantastic video of that at YouTube! And I love "Call Off the Search," too! So, yes, I'm here. And not here. Call off the search.

Balsam is here with me, too, blooming madly along the fence.
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