Monday, October 23, 2017

Me, Too


Yesterday I asked my husband if he was aware of the huge “Me, too” phenomenon on Facebook. He wasn’t (and he is on Facebook). “4.7 million people,” I told him, “reported that they had been sexually harassed, assaulted, or abused, and the real count is probably twice that.” Or three times. The “official” count is probably even bigger now. I told him briefly why I didn’t want to post a “Me, too” status on Facebook—I hated watching all the fights that ensued in people’s comments, I hated watching people climb up on all the podiums and bandwagons; I hated seeing people I like and admire say stupid things (even though I have said stupid things and step up on podiums and bandwagons, too)—but how I did share a short video my niece had shared, showing Tarana Burke, who started the “Me Too” movement ten years ago…and how sad and moving and inspiring that was. Burke spoke with her daughter, who can, alas, say, “Me, too.”*

(And because I am not on Twitter, I knew about Tarana Burke as founder of the movement before I knew that Alyssa Milano had encouraged a “me too” reply to a tweet and a follow-up Twitter boycott, etc., all laid out here in a New York Times article. I am glad that Burke and Milano are now friendly collaborators in raising awareness.

*I learned in the article that Burke started the movement in part because she “couldn’t even say ‘me too’” to a very young victim of sexual abuse. Burke’s movement is all about empathy, specifically “empowerment through empathy,” and she wanted to put people who had suffered together with others who could say, “Me, too.”** Burke has also started a not-for-profit organization called Just Be Inc focused on wellness and wholeness.)

**I am the one adding the annoying comma, though.


Today I saw the piece by Jenny Listman in Medium, about the time Elie Wiesel “grabbed [her] ass”—more sad news, beautifully written, making the issues (and the ironies) very, very clear. I’m waiting for what Bitter Gertrude might say. I will keep reading what these women have to say, and I hope you will, too.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Body of Work

Ever since Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I have been reading his work, checking out his books from the library. I started with When We Were Orphans and then went on to The Buried Giant, the most recent, which takes place in a sort of Beowulfian/post-King Arthur world where the Britons have been in conflict with the Saxons, until they forgot about it. But what will awaken their memories?! It was a slow-moving, page-turner of a book--how do those two things go so well together? that is the mystery of Ishiguro, perhaps!--with a final moment worth waiting for. A book about memory, vengeance, war, and idealism, it made me very sad.

Fantasy is OK, but, frankly, I prefer realism...or, as in the case of The Unconsoled, surrealism, which is like a very long, pretty bad dream, but, as before, I was gripped and could not stop turning the pages. This one struck me as human and true and heart breaking. A guy comes to town to play the piano--he is a famous musician--and gets wrapped up in the lives of the townspeople, or as wrapped up as he can, given his own character, which resembles that of certain other characters in the novel. This one, too, made me very sad.

I wrote down many sentences. Here, the main character is recalling a moment when a classmate sought to console him in the past: "For one thing, even in my state of self-pity, I had been able to recognize the remarkable generosity he was displaying, and had felt a profound gratitude. It was also at that moment I had first realized, with a distinct chill, that there was another side to the school golden boy--some deeply vulnerable dimension that would ensure he would never live up to the expectations that had been placed on him." This is a moment of great insight into the other person's character, without the narrator 1) recognizing in himself the same thing going on and 2) being able to reciprocate in empathy, in the past or in the present. See the sadness?


Here, too, speaking to a child (who seems to vary in age), the narrator speaks wisely of regret without (quite) seeing in himself the same vulnerability to it: "And you see, once you miss it [your big chance], there's no going back, it would be too late. It won't matter how hard I travel afterwards, it won't matter, it would be too late, and all these years I've spent would have been for nothing. I've seen it happen to other people, Boris. They spend year after year travelling and they start to get tired, perhaps a little lazy. But that's often just when it comes along. And they miss it. And, you know, they regret it for the rest of their lives. They get bitter and sad. By the time they die, they've become broken people."

While it's not the kind of plot to which you attach the word the word "spoiler," I don't want to say too much about Miss Collins and her speech near the end of the novel, but I will quote her on this: "Me, the music, we're neither of us anything more to you than mistresses you seek consolation from." This is crucial since the title is The Unconsoled, and we do seem to be in the land of the unconsoled throughout the novel. In it, people do offer each other various consolations--words, food, drink, hospitality, advice, practice rooms....  Ah, but as one character puts it, "I had certain plans then, such as you do when you are young, when you don't realize there's a shell built around you, a hard shell so you can't--get--out!"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cats & Orphans

There are more poems this October, not by me, and these with cats in them, up today at Escape Into Life, in the CatOber 2017 feature. (We have Dog Days in summer, poems with dogs in them, and give equal time to cats in October.) Poems by Catherine Moore, Jessy Randall, and Rob Carney, with links to more!! Meanwhile, I am reading--and about to finish--When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, who just won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Here is a New Yorker piece on him that refers to "the itch of wanting to know" which is what I experience when reading Ishiguro. I had read Never Let Me Go and seen the movie of The Remains of the Day, which I also need now to read, or to read again...and some shorter pieces. There is a mastery in this writing. I want to keep turning the pages, not just to find out what happens, but to keep being told the story.... I like how this cover is a blur.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Poems in October

This has been a slow year for poetry for me--writing, submitting, publishing. I guess I was too busy with other things, or it could be a general winding down. (I hope not.)

My poetry tally is shamefully low; perhaps I will tally before I go... But on October 1, two new issues came out with poems of mine in them:

Rogue Agent with "We Ruined Our Teeth"
and
the museum of americana with "Sunset with No Motel in Sight" and "The Red Car"

Palindromish coincidence: Rogue Agent is issue #31 and the museum of americana is issue #13. (See creepy coincidii from yesterday here.)



Red herringish coincidence re: images. It is not really a No Vacancy problem but instead a "no motel in sight" problem, as that poem states in its title. And while aspects of each poem may be true or autobiographical,

1. We might not have been looking for a motel at all.
2. "The Red Car" is based on a dream and a myth.
3. Our teeth are not now constellations.

But it is true that the song "Drive" by The Cars makes me cry. The line, "Who's gonna drive you home...tonight?" I don't know why, really. I guess it evokes a time gone by...the 80s. Watch out: this is a sad, creepy music video (in case you don't know the song.)

2017 Tally:
Sent: 18 Rejected: 7 Accepted: 5 Pending from present or past: 10



Saturday, October 7, 2017

Magic for Beginners

I am creeped out. What are the odds that I would read two books in a row that contain a character named Ransom? Granted, in one, The Bostonians, by Henry James, Basil Ransom, is a major character, and, in the other, Aiding and Abetting, by Muriel Spark, Roy Ransom, a detective, is merely a mentioned character. (And his name might have been "Ranson," as it was printed the second time he was mentioned, though that might have been a typo. Or was it an intentional mistake, as he was mentioned in a character's notes, to lend verisimilitude. But does that happen? I found it weird.) And I did not read this particular edition of The Bostonians, but I liked this particular couple. They look ghostly or like they are made out of Hollywood ectoplasm, adding to the creepiness of it all. I read instead an edition with a good introduction by A.S. Byatt and excellent footnotes at the back, so I read with two bookmarks, to keep track of them.

The Bostonians is creepy as Ransom, a Southerner, not too long after the Civil War, is sort of stalking a feminist from the North (Boston)--or rather a lovely young woman with a talent for public speaking, who can be used by the feminist movement of the time. It was particularly creepy reading it in our times, in the context of the current prolonged backlash against feminism and the resurgence of Confederate flags and related controversies. And now I do want to see the movie with Christopher Reeve as Ransom, to ponder his charm, though I read the book casting the remake in my head, and Ransom was played by Adam Driver. Henry James describes Adam Driver's long, thrown-back hair, I kid you not. Creepy.

It is October, which adds to the creepiness. Now I am reading Magic for Beginners, a bunch of surreal short stories by Kelly Link. I just finished the story with many rabbits in the yard, so, if you have read it, you know why I am creeped out. Not only by the story, but also because my yard is full of rabbits, too, as we don't spray lawn poison, and I leave plenty of things in the yard for animals, birds, squirrels, earthworms, and insects to eat all year long. I mean seed heads, vegetable compost, and bread crusts.

And up this month at Escape Into Life is my review of Travel Notes from the River Styx, a book of poems by Susanna Lang, that is sort of a dreamy road trip in the Underworld. You can read it here if you want more creepiness! Meanwhile, the annual Evergreen Cemetery Walk continues in Bloomington, Illinois. I wrote a couple of the scripts for it, and the actors are doing a great job. The unifying theme this year is World War I, as this is the centennial of the USA's involvement in that sad, sad war. The ghosts of soldiers, Red Cross nurses, and hard-working, generous people of our community do walk again....