Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Life 16: Love Letter to a Fiction

Natalie: "I am [your friend], Ambrose."
Ambrose: "No, you're a black widow, wooing men to their doom with your feminine wiles."
Mr. Monk: "You wooed? With your wiles? What are you doing waving your wiles around?"
--Mr. Monk on the Road

(I reeeeaaaallllly want the snowglobe and bobblehead that USA used to sell...they are so awesome. The only thing better would be getting my books autographed or getting a signed pic of the cast *swoon*.)

For anyone who knows me or reads this blog, it should come as no surprise that I am in love with the Monk series (book and television). Mr. Monk is Cleaned Out and Mr. Monk on the Road have been glaring at me from the book shelf since the latter came out in January, but schoolwork kept me from them. I finally got to read them over the last couple of days, and as usual, I was blown away. Couldn't put them down. It's hard to discuss plots of Monk books without accidentally giving too much away, so I'll leave that alone. However, I have to applaud Goldberg's depictions of anxiety disorders once again.

I've had a couple of conversations in online OCD groups about Monk, and the reviews are somewhat mixed. Most people I've asked like the show, but there are always a few who have issues. I've never understood why those few don't like Monk. Yes, he is slightly exaggerated at some points, but for crying out loud, it's a television universe. TV always exaggerates, even if just a little. What the Monk books and show manage to do is mystifying to me. OCD is never treated as a joke in itself (like Monica in Friends); there are characters here and there who consider Monk's issues to be a joke, but that's how it is. I can tell you from plenty of experience that a good number of people think OCD is not even a real disorder, that those of us who have it are simply looking for attention or are inflating our claims. Monk is as real a fictional character as I've seen in quite a while. His disorder does not disappear when he needs to catch the bad guy; in fact, it has prevented the catching of the bad guy in several instances. He gets better and worse depending on stress and situation, and that's definitely true. Almost better than the realistic OCD is the fact that he is not a saint. Television sometimes likes to paint those of us with mental disorders as innocent victims of circumstance who should have halos. Well, victims we may be on occasion, but innocent with halos? Definitely not. Monk has figurative warts (literal ones would obviously have to be removed immediately), and the show does not hesitate to show that he is not perfect or a saint. He's just a guy who happens to have OCD, albeit a much more severe case than many, and he's brilliant. I'm woman enough to admit that I miss him between books now that the series is over.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Life 15: Deep South Musings

I can always tell when I am the most homesick. The radio stays tuned to country, and my reading list tends to be filled with books somehow attached to Alabama or the South in general. Case in point: Confederates in the Attic and The Devil Amongst the Lawyers.

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Despite my upbringing in the Heart of Dixie, I have never been a Civil War buff. In fact, I tend to ignore it as much as possible for sheer annoyance factor. Once you've listened to your paranoid, racist stepfather discuss the technicalities of Pickett's Charge or why the CSA should never have lost this or that battle ad nauseam, you start to hate the topic. That being said, I've always been fascinated by the obsession with the War Between the States, or "War of Northern Aggression" depending on who it is you're talking with, and the people who are basically knee-deep in it 24-7. Horwitz was as well, and wrote this fabulous book. My first concern when I pick up any book about the South is how the author is treating it, especially if they themselves are not from the South. I shouldn't have worried about this one. Horwitz does the near impossible in that he manages to give a fair view of some of our, shall we say, less-enlightened citizens while describing the rest of us and our home as it is. I don't mean that he's whitewashed over our failings; no, he includes those. However, he also does not sweep in as the city intellectual and talk about the areas he's visiting as Deliverance II. Even if you hate the Civil War, this is worth the read.

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers by Sharyn McCrumb

"There is no more vicious bigot than a city intellectual contemplating someone to whom he feels intellectually or morally superior."

This is the latest of McCrumb's amazing Ballad Novels, set in the Appalachians of Tennesee and the surrounding areas of Virginia and the Carolinas. If you've never read anything of hers, stop reading this right now and go order everything in the Ballad series first, then everything else. Not only are they excellent mysteries, they are addictive as hell. This is the first book I've read in a long while that I could not make myself put down. I read the entire thing (minus the first 50 pages whoch I read before falling asleep sitting up last night) this morning...admittedly not an unusual occurrence for me, but still. McCrumb, like my favorite sci-fi author Octavia E. Butler with feminist problems, manages to work complex issues of poverty and rural life into the narrative without getting preachy or heavy handed. I honestly cannot say enough wonderful things about these novels.

Anyone who knows me (or hell, anyone who's paid attention to this blog) knows that the misrepresentation of the South, particularly the mountain and rural South, is one of my pet projects. Women's Studies failed me on these points, and I abandoned it as a graduate pursuit partially because I could not stand the thought of ramming the topic into conversation for the next 30 or 40 years. More importantly, I had conflicts over this very issue on at least a weekly basis in classes across my particular academic spectrum. (See this blog for the last one of the spring semester.) I honestly don't know what this means for my future in academia. Maybe it's just particularly bad down here in Florida, who knows...All I do know is that I am relieved and overjoyed to find books that don't paint all of us as slack-jawed morons.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Status Updates: A (Very) Short Discussion of Bullying

A 15-year-old girl holds her one-year-old son. People call her a slut. No one knows she was raped at 13. People call a girl fat. No one knows she has a serious disease which causes her to be overweight. People call an old man ugly. No one knows he had a serious injury to his face while fighting for our country during the war. Repost this if you are against bullying and stereotyping.

I've seen the above posted all over Facebook at various times, and I must say I am 100% behind the sentiment. But can we talk about the silent implications of this? The way it is written makes it seem as though it would be perfectly fine to insult these people if the 15-year-old had actually been sleeping around, the girl had an unfortunate attachment to McDonald's fries, or the old man was simply not attractive by current social standards. While I do not mean that solutions to rising teen pregnancy, obesity, etc should not be addressed, it needs to be understood that bullying does not need to be tolerated in any circumstance, whether the social norm deems it "deserved" or not. I don't care why the teenager is pregnant, the girl is larger than people think is okay, or the old man is less attractive than some think he should be--No One Should Be Bullied. Period.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dispatches from a Refugee in the Land of Privilege, Episode 3: Note to Self, Must Buy Hat

There is something about poverty that smells like death.
--Zora Neale Hurston
For those who know me, it will come as no surprise for me to say that I am broke(n) in many ways , financially being the most salient one of them here. While I do blame certain outside factors on this situation, I want to make it clear (before some irate person jumps all over me) that I do understand that my poor economic skills contribute to the problem. However bad they may be, though, they are not the only cause. Anyway, this blog is being brought to you by a bougey woman at my landlord's office and an article on yahoo...

"My wallet's too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight!"
--Chandler Bing

I went in today to pay the rent, which yes, was late, but I called them 2 weeks ago and arranged this. While I was waiting, I wrote out the money order and overheard the receptionist's conversation with another tenant. She was digging in her expensive purse going on and on about her upcoming expensive vacation and the new car they just bought and etc etc etc. Normally, this would be nothing important...everyone here seems to be more affluent than we are, and I am quite used to hearing these sorts of conversations. The problem started when I got to the counter and was talking to her myself. I apologized for being late again and commented that next month's ought to be on time for once (*insert embarrassed laugh*). She decided that was an excellent segway to complaining about how damn hard it is to work where you have to call (poor) people all day to get them to pay their rent. "It really takes it out of you," she said. Now, I'm sure that calling around to ensure payment of rent is one of the least pleasurable portions of her job. I dont' dispute this; it sucks. BUT the fact of the matter is that it is no easier being the person who has to call every other month and beg a few extra days on the rent. Lately, I've begun to feel like I should carry an old fedora in my purse to twist in my hands at appropriate moments. I can assure you, ma'am, as one of those people you have to call sometimes, that our part sucks worse than yours ever will. Here's why: while your job is uncomfortable, it is simply what you are paid to do. Our lot, on the other hand, is to be the perpetually impoverished, begging for understanding from those with more money and power than ourselves. Also, given your tone and demeanor when discussing the topic, you are obviously not among our number, making your little whine-fest the ridiculous ramblings of the privileged. (I do realize that as a receptionist in a real estate office, she is not exactly pulling in six figures here, but can we agree that she is comfortable and no where near the level of most of the people she is complaining about?) I wanted to reach across the counter, grab her by her lapels, and explain loudly and clearly that HELLO, we do not enjoy being poor and late with the rent (or anything else). I'm sure there is some ass out there who has to get an extension on bills because they spend too much partying or some such nonsense...but most of us are simply trying to make it on what we have and do not need your bullshit to make us feel worse about it.

Poverty must not be a bar to learning and learning must offer an escape from poverty.
--Lyndon Johnson
On to the Yahoo article: Apparently a significant portion of college presidents are of the opinion that higher education is so affordable that most students could pay for it themselves (sans loans and grants). Excuse me, but WHAT? Just as an example, let us look at my recent foray into academia. For the first couple of years back, I was paying out of state tuition (because someone in an office was misinformed...) which means I was charged approximately $2000 per class, bringing my total to over $8000 before textbooks and supplies. After the mistake with my residency was cleared up, classes dropped to a little less than $500 each, plus books, etc. I understand that there are people who were raised in families which apparently have this sort of money lying about for just such an occasion, but I am not one of them. The term "college fund" was one of those phrases I associated only with sitcom families (literally), and it was understood that if I was to earn a degree, it would be on scholarships, grants, and federal loans. Otherwise, no college. And while I rant about the privilege that constantly smacks me in the face here, it is not lost on me that I am not alone in my loan-dependence. If the federal loan/grant program was suddenly to be taken away, no one below a certain tax bracket would ever be able to attend college. It's already rare enough for people who grew up similar to myself and others like me to earn a degree without boot stomping our last chances into the pavement.

Poverty is no disgrace to a man, but it is confoundedly inconvenient.
--Sydney Smith

This blog is unusually scattered for me, but I simply have no idea right now what to do with this information. Does this mean that people of my particular socioeconomic class and lower should simply forget college all together? What then? There aren't enough jobs that don't require degrees to go around if you hadn't noticed. And what about the attitudes of those more privileged than us? Are we really, in the 21st century, still in this feudal mindset of the poor being ridiculously inferior and distasteful to deal with?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Book Life 14: Deeply Wonkified, A Trip Into Chuck Klosterman's Brain

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

I picked this book up originally because I had read a short piece of Klosterman's on the internet somewhere and thought he was fairly amusing. I found him funny enough in this book to laugh a good bit, but I did have my issues. He's primarily a pop culture/music critic, and we differ greatly on some points. For instance, he doesn't seem to like The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother very much, calling their "credibility" into question, but immediately after that he calls The Simpsons "high-end" comedy. Don't get me wrong; I make no arguments that BBT or HIMYM are high-brow, and I sort of like the Simpsons, more several years ago than now. ( I remember watching the first pieces of it on the Tracey Ullman Show and then its very first episodes back when they originally came on and liking them.) But I mean, really? High-end comedy? Doubtful.

I only skimmed the football essay, because well, it got a bit technical. While I love to learn about a wide variety of things, specific plays and strategies in football are not among them. (Even he acknowledges that this will likely happen) That said, I LOVED his discussion of time travel. Even though it is one of my pet loves, I am not so ridiculously blind that I can't see the paradoxes and holes in it, and he does a pretty great job talking about them. I did enjoy the way he structured the essays, and the pieces on David Koresh and the Unabomber were really interesting. (What can I say? I'm a sucker for cult leaders and misanthropes.) Oh, and did you know that Werner Herzog made a "1976 Bavarian glass-blowing epic [called] Heart of Glass"? A glass-blowing epic? Who knew?

It isn't that this was a bad read, and I may pick up one of his other books in the future. However, it will likely only be if I find it at a used bookstore at which I have credit.

Monday, May 2, 2011

These Phrases You Keep Using, I Do Not Think They Mean What You Think They Mean: In Which I Will Likely Alienate Half of My Acquaintances

Mother of Love and Compassion, bestow your wisdom upon me. Help me see humanity through your eyes. Help me master the love and compassion that you hold near your heart of Gold. Help me shine like a beacon in the night and see my reflection in your tear of love.Quan Yin, I thank you for your tireless love and your patience and hope for humanity.

As the entire world is likely aware by now, the U.S. claims to have killed Osama bin Laden, the boogeyman for whom the entire mess in Afghanistan, etc. was started. As soon as the news broke, people here were dancing and celebrating in the streets outside the White House, and Facebook blew up with status update after status update proclaiming the wonder of his death and the prowess of the American military. All I could do was stare at the screen in disbelief and horror, not because I am supporting terrorism or any such thing but because I was watching little pieces of humanity shrivel and die in the pixels. I'm already quite unpopular for saying similar things on Facebook and in this blog (now and in times past), and it is probably about to get worse. If you read this or any of my comments on the subject and feel that I am no longer worthy to be your friend, that's sad, but if you're reading this, you also likely already know me and know that I am not one to hold my tongue. As I have gotten older, I have also learned not to apologize for expressing myself, so no, I'm not sorry if any of this offends you.

First let me say that I do not blame the women and men who are daily being carted in and out of war zones for this "cause". For the most part, they are just people trying to work and take care of their families; their jobs simply happen to be much more dangerous and morally complicated than any of mine have been. I wish every single person who has been sent to the Middle East could come home safe and sound right now, or even better, that they had never been sent in the first place. What this also means is that I think we never should have gone at all. Call me a conspiracy theorist if you'd like, but...well, that would be an entirely different post. Suffice it to say that I find the entire endeavor ridiculous.

But this is not a post about the military or war or the government. There are plenty of political blogs out there who are doing and have done much better jobs of those topics than I could. No, this post is about the aftermath of the proclaimed death of bin Laden. I was snapped at (or as much as that is possible in normal sized type of Facebook) repeatedly for what have been variously called pacifist and anti-American views, depending on the respondent. If the death of bin Laden meant a swift and immediate end to all this crap, I might be able to understand the rejoicing; I would still not agree with it, but at least I could see the reasoning. As it is, all that's happened is one man has been killed; arguably he can be called a figure head, making it a death significant in terms of morale if nothing else. However, regardless of who this person was or what they may have done, it is no excuse for ignoring common human compassion. At some point in his life, there was a moment, or many moments, that twisted the mind of this man so that he became what he did. Instead of celebrating his destruction, the truly human thing to do would be to recognize the loss of what could potentially have been a beautiful and wonderful person. Lack of opportunity and positive, compassionate support in his life created the angry individual over whose death so many of my friends have been quick to party.

For years now, the extremely zealous "patriots" have cited the celebrations in our "enemy" countries at the 9/11 attacks as reason enough to be outraged and hate them. People claimed to be shocked and appalled at this blatant lack of respect for human life, but then lookie here, these same people are hooting and hollering in the streets at bin Laden's death. Just because he is perceived as evil does NOT make it the moral high ground to applaud his death.

When we’ve seen video footage of foreigners cheering terrorist attacks against America, we have ignored their insistence that they are celebrating merely because we have occupied their nations and killed their people. . . Indeed, an America that once carefully refrained from flaunting gruesome pictures of our victims for fear of engaging in ugly death euphoria now ogles pictures of Uday and Qusay’s corpses, rejoices over images of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and throws a party at news that bin Laden was shot in the head. This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history -- the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed. --David Sirota on

I may very well be nearly alone on this, but I will never celebrate the death of anyone. If that person happened to be less than wonderful while alive, I can only offer up prayers to the Goddess that in his/her next life he/she will have less desire to cause pain and will make the world a better place for having existed. By rejoicing in the death of anyone, despite whatever violent or evil acts they may have committed, we are simply perpetuating the evil and becoming as bad if not worse than them.

"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Panic and Doom/Book Life 13: In Which the Recent Graduate Comes to Terms with Said Graduation and Buries Her Panic in Books

Well, here we are: the very first post-graduation blog post. As of about 10 pm Friday the 29th, I became an alumna of Florida State with a BA in Religion, minor in Women's Studies; a BA with honors in Women's Studies, minor in Religion; and a BA in Creative Writing, minor in Latin. Since then, I have had about 3 panic attacks and at least one minor breakdown. Yes, I'm happy and proud of myself; after all, this is something I've been looking forward to for quite some time now. The entire seven years I was out of school, all I could think of was getting back in and finishing what I started, and I finally did--three times over. But now, without homework and classes, I am utterly lost. When I graduated high school, I knew I was headed off to college, so everything was cool. Now, I have no plan. With the Religion department rejecting me yet again, I have been left to wander about in my own ruminations, and as anyone who knows me well will tell you, my ruminations are no place to wander aimlessly.

Thus, I have spent the last week or so since the official "hell no" from the department showed up in my mailbox going over and over my choices. First of all, I HAVE to get a job, which is much easier said than done in this town, open availability or not. Anna needs a break, and we need to pay bills. Second, I have to figure out what happens next. There is a short list of schools that I would love to attend for my MA/PhD, and there's also Teach for America, which embodies many of my most deeply held ideals about changing the world. Of course, any of those choices hinge on my acceptance to said program, none of which are simple to get into, and who wants to give me enough of a financial package. Right now, though, I just need a paycheck.

Okay, enough of my panicked existential angst about the future...since I am no longer writing papers and studying for tests, I once again have time to read whatever the hell I want for the first time in ages. :-)

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
"Who cares if a mathematician calls us dirty names like 'unreal'? They say such slanders about the square root of minus two as well."--Diko, in Pastwatch
I first read this book several years ago and fell in love with it. Normally, I am not that much of an Orson Scott Card fan--not that he isn't great, but just not one of my favorites. This particular book, however, is neither part of any of his series nor like any of his other writings as far as I can tell. Written from a far future vantage point, the human race has just been through a century of warfare, famine, and other horrors and is now living in a time of peace and plenty. They've developed what is called Pastwatch, which has built machines capable of looking at the past. As it progresses, they figure out that they are actually capable of changing the past as well, and one scholar discovers that Christopher Columbus may very well be the point at which all future conquest and evil began. I won't go on, because, you know, spoilers, but rest assured it is worth the read. Even if sci-fi isn't usually your thing, Pastwatch should be on your to-read list, if for no other reason than Card has discovered the most seamless way of working historical research into fiction than I've seen in a long time.