Mayday, Mayday!

The entire world has changed seemingly overnight. No, that’s not true. COVID-19 had been brewing and building for months and months. Festering and threatening overseas. We knew it would come our American way, and yet. Yet! Here we are. I have been laid off from my job; have been quarantined for 40 plus days; have not seen the inside of a store of any kind; have not driven a car or talked face to face with another human being besides my Kisa. For over a month, I have been separated by screens and paranoia. I couldn’t even say goodbye to one of my closest friends for fear of contamination before he stole across borders towards a new home. Words like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Hangout, and Live Stream rule my daily existence. My insanity has been kept in check by these words, walking 8-9 miles a day, writing letters, and finishing chores I always said I would get to but never did (sewing ripped clothes, making curtains, hanging art, you name it). The one activity I haven’t done much of is…read.
Nothing bothers me more than someone saying, “think of all the time you have to read!” They mean well but they just don’t know. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time reading. When I could get away with it, my nose was constantly in a book. In the dead of winter, when the summer tides of friends had gone out, I was left with my sister and a handful of kids close in age. Close, but not quite. Dead low tide was a boy one year older. A girl three years younger. A boy two years older. A boy four years younger. No one exactly shared my birth year. I found myself turning to friends within the pages of books. Lots and lots of books. Lots and lots of friends. My dad was not a fan of these relationships. He viewed fiction as leisure or worse, laziness. “Get outside! Get some fresh air!” was his constant bark from early October through May. His bark was so biting I grew up fearing fiction was a form of loafing; something to never to be caught doing in broad daylight. I remember smuggling Nancy Drew under my shirt when I went to the school bathroom; ducking under covers with a flashlight to join Bilbo on his great adventure; climbing trees with Stephen King clenched in my teeth. Hiding to hang out with a paperback became normal.
In 2006 when I started the BookLust Challenge, I thought I had slayed the old insecurities. I thought I could spend time with a book without guilt. For fourteen years I held onto this belief as a private gospel…until I got laid off and I couldn’t sit on the couch with a book. All the old feelings of leisure, loafing, laziness came flooding back. Guilt. I realized I only read when I was killing time, waiting for something else. Constructive book devouring? I don’t know. For years, I could juggle reading 5-6 books at a time and finish 10 in a month. But! That was when I was on hold with a vendor, bored in the boardroom, waiting in line at the grocery store, fighting nerves in the doctor’s office, sitting as a passenger on long car/train/plane/boat rides. Reading kept me from waiting for anything. Take all the time you need while I finish this chapter…
I have been out of work for one month, collecting unemployment equal to my take-home pay and yet I’ve only managed to finish two books. I guess I could try to tell myself I am waiting to go back to work, but that’s too abstract for my too literal mind. Mayday! Mayday, I can’t read.

I always said I will die before I officially finish the reading Challenge. Now I know it to be true.


September Psycho

I don’t even know where to begin with September. It was the month from hell in more ways than one. The only good news is that I was able to run twice as many miles as last month. That counts for something as it saves my sanity just a little bit more than if I didn’t do anything at all.

Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • In the City of Fear by Ward Just
  • Jim, The Boy by Tony Earley
  • The Shining by Stephen King

Nonfiction:

  • Thank You and OK! by David Chadwick
  • Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks
  • Ayatollah Begs to Differ by Madj Hoomin
  • Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone

Series continuations:

  • Tripwire by Lee Child
  • Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • My Life on the Line by Ryan O’Callaghan

Ethel and Ernest

Briggs, Raymond. Ethel and Ernest: a True Story. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Reason read: May is Graphic Novel month. I read that somewhere.

This is Raymond Brigg’s story of his parents as a couple from the moment they met until death did them part. Simplistic in graphic novel form but powerful in message. What started off as an accidental communication for the couple kicked off a poignant romance that lasted fifty years. Brigg’s loving tribute continues through his parents’s courtship and marriage, his mom giving birth to him at 38 years old (their only child), the war and the political aftermath, the ravages of aging, and finally each of their deaths. What makes the retelling so heartwarming is Brigg’s ability to communicate parental emotion. Every fear, hope, happiness and expectation they felt towards their son was delivered and exposed in loving detail.

Author fact: Briggs was removed from his parents (evacuated during the war for safety) when he was five years old.

Book trivia: Ethel and Ernest is a graphic novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called Ethel and Ernest a “touching story” (Book Lust p 103).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Interestingly enough, the title Ethel and Ernest and author Raymond Briggs are missing from the index.


Hole in the World

Rhodes, Richard. A Hole in the World: an American Boyhood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Have you ever walked across really, really hot sand in your bare feet? There you are, stinging and ouching all the way across the incredibly hot terrain. But! It’s a pain you don’t want to give up because of where you are and where you going. Your destination is that blissful blanket by the sea and it will be lovely (why else are you there?). You know the pain will only last as long as you as are hot-stepping across the sand. That brief agony is the way I felt about Hole in the World by Richard Rhodes. It was unpleasant reading, even hurtful reading but I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to get to the good part, that blanket, if you will. It’s the story of Richard Rhodes growing up in an abusive household.  I know he heals from his traumatic childhood. I know the abuses he suffered didn’t last forever. There is light at the end of the dark tunnel of boyhood. But, it is a book worth reading. His words haunted my heart long after I put it down.

Favorite dangerous line, “I was tickling a dragon’s tail” (p 170).

Reason read: April is National Child Abuse Prevention month.

Author fact: Richard Rhodes went on to write The Making of the Atom Bomb for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Book trivia: Heads up vegetarians and animals lovers! There is a decent-sized section dedicated to the description of the slaughter of farm animals. It’s graphic and detailed but nothing disturbed me more than when Rhodes is forced to kill a cat.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 116).


West of Then

Smith, Tara Bray. West of Then: a Mother, a Daughter, and a Journey Past Paradise. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Tara Bray Smith’s story is haunting. Her childhood and subsequent adult relationship with her mother is tragic. What unfolds before you is a young woman’s story about an almost always drug-addicted and sometimes homeless mother who was constantly abandoning her children. Karen had four children with four different men. Luckily for her second oldest, Tara grew up with some sort of stability with her pot-smoking father and his second wife, Debbie. Tara spends most of the book looking and finding and looking again for her mother. What is especially hard to take is that after you have gotten through the 319 pages you realize nothing has really changed. I am not ruining the end of the story by saying nothing gets resolved. There is no ending. Interspersed are stories of Hawaii, past and present, cultural and historical. It’s this writing that makes the entire book come alive.

As an aside – I don’t know if this was intentional or not but Bray does a good job of making her mother out to be an absolute whore and not in the literal sense but in the derogatory sense. She subtly names no less than 14 different men Karen was having some sort of revolving door romantic relationship with throughout the book. Neil, Ron, Owen, Kirk, Eric, Stan, Terry, Ray…and so on. I found it distracting.
The drawbacks to reading a book with no set chronological order or apparent plot is it is really easy to lose your place. I don’t use bookmarks because usually, I can remember what’s going on in the story enough to pick up where I left off. With the chronology as jumbled as it was I found the search for her mother disorientating. Maybe that was the point.

Lines I liked: “He has his studies; I have my missing mother” (p 117) and “The desire for something sweet makes you stupid” (p 243).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii: memoirs” (p 94).


No Instructions Needed

Hewitt, Robert G. No Instructions Needed: An American Boyhood in the 1050s.

Okay. I have to get this off my chest. I was curious about the publisher for No Instructions Needed so I did a simple Google search. On my first run-through I found an ArbeitenZeit Media website with design and content credit going to Robert G. Hewitt. On my second attempt to find other authors published through ArbeitenZeit Media I found Gail Hewitt and L.G. Hewitt. Did I stumble across a family-run vanity publication? Am I writing a review as a vehicle for marketing purposes? Does that mean no one else would publish their work? That bothers me because when a writer finds someone who is willing to publish his or her words it’s as if that publisher is saying, “I believe in your craft.”

Robert G. Hewitt learned of the demise of his high school and was flooded with memories from his boyhood. As a salute to his youth he wrote No Instructions Needed, a collection of remembrances of the 1950s complete with cute illustrations. Everything from Christmas to Hewitt’s first car is covered with great nostalgic fondness. As mentioned by other reviewers, nothing really happens in No Instructions Needed. The memory lane is not paved with problems and the end result is a simple, yet pleasant read.


Pushing September Out


I decided to push September out the door a little earlier than any calendar would suggest. Yeah, yeah. I have three more days, but who’s counting? Certainly not me. It’s been a hard month.

Truth be known I am always itching for October 1st. My Halloween has 31 days. My thrill time lasts all month. Better than Christmas. Don’t ask me why. I think it started when I was a kid. Mom would make these outrageous costumes (extremely elaborate, creative, funky…but on a frayed shoestring budget – we’re talking tinfoil and spray paint). My all-time favorite was a gigantic pumpkin made out of coat hangers, a bed sheet and lots of paint. I barely fit through doors, couldn’t sit down all that well and my face itched for days on end, but man! it was a cool costume. Another time sis and I were Miss Piggy and Kermit the frog. I remember being embarrassed by the ginormous breasts and blue eye shadow. We were a sight to see! Us kids would pile into the back of a pickup truck and bounce all over the island looking for treats while the older boys played tricks. Scary all the time they were worse on Halloween. Dusk brought eerie shadows to our faces as we tried to peer into plastic bags for goodies. Whoopie pies spilled from my mother’s kitchen as big as your fist. Apple cider simmering on the wood stove.

These days I don’t run around wearing orange and green paint pretending to be a vegetable from the patch. If I’m lucky I will get my kisa to take a walk among the trick or treaters so I can count the goblins. Every year someone on my block plays Nightmare Before Christmas on the side of his house. Candles glow from jack-o-lanterns on every stoop. Leaves crunch beneath our feet. There is some sort of magic in the air. I can’t really explain it. The sugar shacks start up their boils and put on breakfast feasts.
What I need to do now is find my way to the basement, locate the big box marked “Halloween”, drag it up to the living room, and unpack my spooky friends. Who cares if it’s still September? Who cares if I’m in the wrong month. It’s time to get back to the right state of mind.


Good Enough Parent

Bettelheim, Bruno. A Good Enough Parent. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.

It’s funny that this was written in the year I graduated from high school and went onto college. I consider 1987 one of the biggest “brink” years – standing on the brink of something bigger. However, reading this 21 years later reminds me of something else: homework!

Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids (and the fact I’ll never have kids) that I didn’t find A Good Enough Parent all that interesting. Instead it was rather dry and psychological. Nancy Pearl says this book is a must for any new parent. I honestly do not know when any new parent would have the time! Pearl also goes on to say, “Be forewarned: Bettelheim’s perspective is very psychoanalytical” (Book Lust p 30). He does make the text a little easier (interesting) by including personal anecdotes and compelling stories to punctuate his point.

Lines I like: “None of this holds true for what happens between a parent and child. Anything that occurs in their relationship is heir to a long and complicated history” (p 5).
“I feel that a parent’s most important task is to get a feeling for what things may mean to his child” (p 14).
“Parental anxiety makes life very difficult for parent and child, since the child responds to the anxiety of the parents with even more severe anxiety” (p 41).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Babies: A Readers Guide” (p 30).


Before the Beginning

Morning Harbor

This is the time of morning I wait for. The air is still. The harbor rolls gently, causing the moored boats to nod to one another solemnly. One or two people wander by quietly. Somewhere, a truck starts up and birds mutter to themselves. There is quiet activity, a gentle buzz. The island is alive but at the same time it feels as though everything is barely stirring. Muted almost as though under water.
When I was a kid, no more than five or six, I used to sit on the top step leading up to our apartment. I would listen for the early morning coo of the mourning doves, watch the early bird birders with binoculars slung around their necks. The light was magical at that time of day. I remember waiting for something. Even now I couldn’t tell you what.

My husband can sit in front “Sunrise Earth” all day. Have you seen it? I don’t know who thought up this programming, but more importantly I’d like to meet the person he or she sold the idea to. It has got to be one patient person. I can just imagine the sales pitch: “I’ve got this great idea for a television show! Cameras record the sunrise…in real time. No soundtrack, no narration. Just the sun rising from different angles. We’ll capture bugs stirring, birds chirping…maybe the sound of water if it’s in the shot.”
Really, that’s all the show is about. Watching the sun rise. A bug may land on a twig for a few minutes. A bird might buzz a camera. A nearby brook may be gurgling away. That’s about it. For some (many?) it’s the equivalent of watching paint dry.

Me, I would like to see an episode filmed from my tippy top stair. Bring me back to the beginning – before the beginning of another busy day.


When to Hold ‘Em

When I was a kid Kenny Rogers was cool. More than cool. His ‘Coward of the County’ was king. His ‘Gambler’ was even cooler than that. I didn’t know much about gambling, the card playing kind. But, I knew about taking risks. Or, as Natalie says, “taking dares with yes.” I stretched my safety to the limits, kicked at the walls of my comfort zone all the time. It’s the only way I knew how to be. If there was a line to walk I wobbled just outside of it. Teetered on the edge of trouble. I think I was so terrible because I couldn’t get attention. Not the kind I craved. The line “when to hold ’em” was always “when to hold ME” in my mind. And I lived by the options of walking or running away. Did it all the time. If it wasn’t a physical move-to-a-new-state-no-forwarding-address kind of move it was an I Need To End This Relationship Right Now kind of running away. Shutting down, kicking someone out. Let me leave you before you leave me. Allow me to hurt myself before you do it for me. Walking or running I was always leaving someone or something.

As an adult here’s what bothers me about Kenny’s song. He says “Know when to walk away, know when to run.” Well, what about staying? Wasn’t that ever an option in his world or mine? Just sitting right there, not flinching a muscle. Not twitching a lip. Doing absolutely nothing. Being braver than brave for not bolting. I don’t get it or me. Wasn’t I stronger than that? I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer to that. Really.


Seaweed Queen

 SeaWeedQueen

I have always been a seaweed queen. When I was a child I would crouch down over tidal pools, push the algae aside and watch for minnows. I was never afraid of the slime green vegetation. When the tide moved in it was fun to watch the long, dark, bumpy strands of seaweed sway along the shore. To me, it was a forest of brown dancing under the waves. Mermaids hair as they hid among the rocks just out of reach. On luckier days after hurricanes giant strings of leafy kelp would wash up onto the beach and suddenly my friends and I had skirts from the sea. Wet and slimy, wrapped around our bodies and staining our clothes. We were queens of the ocean come ashore to live in landlocked exile. My imagination took me to an underwater world that continues to fascinate me to this day.
When I grew older (and bolder) I learned seaweed was actually edible and began drying it as a kind of vegetarian beef jerky. Adding it to my diet of raw periwinkles and mussels, crab apples, sour clover, and blackberries I ate like royalty foraging all day long.

I’ve since stopped watching for mermaids. I no longer wear kelp for fashion. I’ve lost the taste for the salty sea. But, I will always, always be a seaweed queen.


Tomato Girl

Pupek, Jayne. Tomato Girl. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2008.

What a beautifully written, tragic first book! The characters are so true to life and so compelling I was picturing them in a movie. It’s told in first person from the point of view of 11 year old Ellie. With the help of a series of seamless recollections Ellie recounts her life with a mentally ill mother and a cheating father. Ellie’s father is taken with, and soon overcome by, a teenage girl who delivers tomatoes to the store he manages. From the moment the “tomato girl” comes into Ellie’s life every day is stacked with another unbelievable tragedy, a level of sadness leading to horror much deeper than the one before. It is hard to imagine the amount of pain this child has to endure at such a tender age. Pupek writes with sentences full of foreshadowing. They hang heavy like dark clouds, bloated with the storm that will erupt any minute.
My only complaint is absence of addressing molestation. Ellie is “grabbed” by boy hard enough to leave a bruise. At the same time her period has started (her first). When Sherrif Rhodes discovers the blood, and Ellie tells him of the rough boy, the Sheriff doesn’t take Ellie to a hospital to be examined by a real doctor. She is brought to a black woman who practices witchcraft. Because the story is set in the late 60’s and racism is hinted at I was surprised Sherriff Rhodes would bring a child to her rather than the local hospital. This is the only part I wish was explained better.

ps~ there are a ton of those “gotcha” sentences that I love so much. Too many to mention.

 


Sex Stories

She came home at five years old and said with a smile “I touched a penis.” This was like lighting a match and there were only two options. The flame dies out, the incident is forgotten on a whisp of smoke, or. Or. The match flares to a flame. Becomes an inferno of hell to come.
TruthDareConsequencesPromiseOrRepeat. I chose Dare. I just like taking dares with Yes. Sent her to her room without explanation. Where did I go wrong? My Fault for years to come. Come on baby, light my fire.

She had her first older man at eight. Fire on the Mountain. Couldn’t understand why he didn’t treat her differently. Wasn’t she special (so special, he would whisper) because of the things she let him do. Let him do to her? “IWLLBGNTLE” spelled out in Scrabble pieces. No wonder she won’t play the game. She wondered if anyone of importance would ever noticed. She was certainly teased enough about it by those who mattered less. Who would say anything? Definitely not her. Where did she go wrong. Her fault for years to come.

Virginity lost at 13. I pretended to be asleep. What’s the sense of interupting when she wants it that way? Expects it that way? A walking, talking, breathing, lying (down) slut. Talk is cheap but actions are rich – they rule the game played out. She walked away. I turned my face away from his pain. Where did he go wrong? His fault to fall in love. His fault for years to come.

They caught up to her in September. Payback’s a bitch and she felt she earned it, deserved it even. Larry, Curly & Moe. Where did you go? The taste of gin, sour on your lips. The lead of Led, heavy in your ears. She’s not here. But I am.

Her fault for years to come.