Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Books: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones and We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I read these books last week, but also cut my left hand while chopping veggies, making typing difficult. That's why I haven't been so posty lately (no, it wasn't because I had the baby...but my due date is one week from yesterday, so he should arrive soon).

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
I read an interview with Jones in Poets & Writers, and thought this book sounded good. Then I heard another interview with her on NPR, and that sealed the deal. I had to read this! It's a story about bigamist in Atlanta who has two daughters (one with each of his wives) that are the same age. The "second" family knows about the "first" family, but the "first" family does not know about the "second" family. The book is divided into two parts, one from each daughter's perspective. It takes place mostly in the 80s, when the girls are teens. Jones' writing style has an unadorned, very readable feel to it, with a sneaky depth that kept me thinking about the book even in the rare moments that I wasn't actively reading it. One thing that especially struck me was the compassion she showed to each of her characters - they were full and rich and when they were in conflict with each other it was hard for me to choose a side! My only complaint was that I wanted more...I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the characters when the book ended. I highly recommend this book.

ETA: I forgot to mention, my alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, gets a shout-out in this book :)

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
I don't remember how I heard about this one...I think maybe Amazon recommended it? It's been out for a few years, but the Kindle edition just came out a couple of months ago. This was one I knew I probably should stay away from in my sensitive pregnant state...yet I couldn't resist. It's written from the perspective of a mother whose teenage son has killed several of his classmates, around the same time as the Columbine shootings (this book is fiction, it's not about a real school shooting). The mother, through a series of letters to her estranged husband, reflects on her relationship with her son, which was essentially a hostile power struggle from the day he was born. Her son was a mean, nasty kid. But why? This is what his mother attempts to figure out.

Shriver's style is wordy and somewhat rambling, which seemed to me like a choice based on the character (and it worked...though it was a bit hard for me to get into immediately, especially in contrast with Jones' book, which I'd just finished), although I haven't read any of her other books so I can't say for sure.

This book is very, very disturbing. I sat on the couch with my Kindle, occasionally asking my husband questions such as "Has there ever been anyone in your family that you'd describe as a psychopath?" and "Do you believe in bad seeds?"

So, yeah. Maybe not the best choice of reading material right now. But it was excellently done, with touching and even funny moments interspersed with the general tone of doom. I recommend this one if you think you can handle it!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Birthing bead necklace

This is a necklace I made to wear during labor. I'm participating in an online Due Date Club comprised of women whose babies are due in August. Twenty-two of us opted to do a bead exchange. We each sent twenty-two beads out, and each person got one of each bead. Some people sent extras, so I ended up with more than one of some of them. The ones I sent out are the light blue discs with brown swirls...and I kept two for my own necklace :)

The lion was a special splurge purchase that I couldn't pass up at the bead store. My baby will most likely be a Leo. Also, it is from Russia!

Oh, and yeah, I know I'm a hippie.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book review: Flower Children by Maxine Swann

Yeah, I've been reading a lot lately. I picked this book up at Blue Cypress Books in NOLA the last time I was there, when I had some time to kill. Since I finished Townie yesterday, I tossed this book in my tote bag when I went out to run errands. It was a quick read - I finished it in the wee hours this morning after one of the cats woke me up and I couldn't get back to sleep.

Flower Children is about four siblings being raised by hippie parents in the 1970s. It has more of a short story (or short story collection) feel than a novel feel. There isn't exactly a central plot, and the perspective shifts fairly often. It worked for me, though, because the descriptions of the children's lives were so rich and honest, and because I wanted to see what the crazy adults would do next. It reminded me at times of Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors - but without the bitter humor. Which is not to say there weren't funny parts in Flower Children, but overall it had a more subtle and poetic tone.

I recommend this one for anyone fascinated by hippie culture, or anyone looking for a beautifully written book with a unique style.

Intentions aren't everything.

There's an article on essence.com, which I read via Feministe, concerning the reporter Mac McClelland's use of a story of another woman's traumatic rape in a personal essay she wrote about how her job affects her sex life. Go read the Essence article, and the comments too, where McClelland, Mother Jones (who McClelland works for), and the rape victim's lawyer respond.

I'm sure McClelland had good intentions - both in bringing the story of the situation in Haiti to people's attention in her Mother Jones reporting and in addressing the complex affects of violence on sexuality in her personal essay (which I won't link to here but it's easy to find...as a warning, though, I personally found it very difficult to read and upsetting). But her focus on her intentions and her own trauma seem to have blinded her to the rape victim's feelings and wishes, which is not OK.

I was reminded of a situation a few years ago, when Eve Ensler's V-day organization had a huge event in New Orleans. My playback troupe was performing at this event and leading story circles, which is a process in which people share stories from their lives (it is something we often use in conjunction with our Playback work, since Playback is a theatrical representation of personal stories). We were working in a beautiful red tent designed by an artist from New York, which created a nice sense of intimacy and was a women-only space...however, it proved to be too small to hold the many women who wanted to participate in our workshops.

Anyway, I found myself in the unfortunate position of bouncer for much of the event, which really sucked because I hated turning away women who wanted to participate. And sometimes people got really confrontational with me, which I felt was unfair because I had no real power to change the situation or go build a bigger tent or anything like that.

Many of the stories that the women were sharing had to do with sexual assault and violence, and we did our best to keep the space safe for these women. Part of the story circle process is an agreement not to share stories you hear in the circle with the outside world.

Well, at one point a woman with a video camera showed up, and informed me that she was going to film one of our workshops. At that time, the leader of our Playback group was not present and I had not been informed that this was going to happen. I told her this, and she assured me that it was fine, because Eve Ensler had asked her to document everything going on at the V-day event. I told her I still was not comfortable with her taping the story circle workshop due to the need for privacy and a safe environment. She kept repeating, "but it's for Eve!" and telling me what a swell person Eve Ensler is (which I'm sure she is, but that wasn't the point). I eventually got so frustrated and angry because I felt I was being patronized and dismissed that I started to cry. Gah! I hate that I cry when I'm angry. Especially because her reaction was to become even more patronizing and to hug me, repeatedly, against my will.

Eventually, thankfully, the leader of our group returned and spoke with this woman, and they decided to have one story circle comprised of people who had given prior consent to being filmed, with the understanding that no one else was to be filmed.

The McClelland mess reminded me of that experience because I think both are examples of what can happen when two very important issues - the need to share with the world at large the horrible violence that too many women endure and the need to protect those women and honor their feelings and their ownership of their experiences - clash. My opinion is that we need to be vigilant to protect the individual women's needs first, or we risk victimizing them all over again.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book review: Townie by Andre Dubus III

I heard an interview with Andre Dubus III a few months ago on NPR when David and I were driving through Florida. I found myself telling David more than once, "I have to read that book!" I like memoirs (especially if they're written by actual, talented writers as opposed to, say, people who are famous for something other than writing), I like books that take place in Massachusetts (where I grew up), and I'm especially drawn to stories involving divorce and family issues.

If, by chance, any of you go for these elements in a book, Townie is definitely for you. But even if you don't, there are plenty of other reasons to read this book.

Townie is a book about masculinity. If I'd known that, I may have passed on it. I'm glad I didn't figure that out until I was already hooked. David recently told me he rarely reads books written by women, that he often finds the themes and writing styles less interesting and easy to relate to than those written by men. I told this to my sister, and she said she rarely reads books written by men for the same reason. I read both, but I do tend to be drawn more to books with female protagonists. Which, more often than not, are also written by women, so I suppose I probably end up reading more female authors as well. I feel particularly turned off by most books about war (well, blow-by-blow battle accounts, anyway...I have enjoyed reading about the effects of war and violence on individuals and society), or books about men finding themselves through lots of random or extra-marital sex, and other stereotypical "manly" themes.

Townie is different, because Dubus - at least by the time he wrote the book - had a very deep understanding of himself and his motivations, so although there is a lot of violence in the book, it is treated with a level of introspection and honesty that I've never seen before. I felt that I could understand and relate to this guy who gets in bar fights all the time, which is pretty damned far outside my experience. But hey, isn't that why we read, anyway?

The book is mostly chronological, but the beginning part is less so, with more jumps back and forth in time. I found this a bit jarring and I'm not sure why Dubus made this choice. Once the book settled into a strictly chronological format, I enjoyed the flow of the story.

I admit, another thing that I love about memoirs is that I can look the "characters" up on Wikipedia after I've finished reading about them. It's satisfying, like reality TV...only you can feel better about yourself, because it's literary, not trashy ;)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Yesterday I got married in a red polka dot maternity dress.

David and I originally planned to get married at some point after we had the baby, but due to confusing (and probably boring to read) health insurance issues we recently decided it would be best to get married before the birth. And when I say recently, I mean, like, a few days ago.

I never had a desire to attempt to plan a wedding while pregnant, and I've found that since I have a child on the way, I'd much rather devote our money and effort to him than to a big wedding - now or in the future. Which is not to say I dislike big weddings - I think they're great! I've had tons of fun at other people's weddings. My younger sister is getting married in a few months and I'm super excited about it. It just didn't feel right for me in our particular situation.

I'm 36 weeks pregnant (37 tomorrow), so when we decided we'd like to get married before the baby arrived, we had to act fast! Here's how it went down.

We went to the Clerk of Court and got a marriage license. They had us fill out an online application on a computer. David was being silly and typing jokes in there (stating this was my 27th marriage, etc), and he took most of that out before submitting, but not the part where he put my race as "blue eyes" and his as "brown eyes." I freaked, thinking they'd make us start from scratch, but they just changed it to "white" on the official document and didn't say anything about it. Interestingly, they also listed both of his parents as being born in Russia even though they were born in countries that were part of the USSR but are not part of Russia (and he had indicated this on the form). Whatever, we got our piece of paper, and a stack of business cards for local Justices of the Peace. Then we went out for burritos. David went to work, and I came home and started calling around to see if anyone could marry us this weekend (David's work schedule is starting to pick up so we couldn't do it on a week day). I only got through to one JOP. I arranged a meeting with him the following day.

I met the JOP at his home, which has a small chapel attached to it. It was cute, and he was friendly but quite elderly, and we did have to go over some information a few times. I asked about the vows he uses, specifically as they relate to religion (because we didn't want any religious stuff in our vows - David identifies as Jewish Agnostic and I have sort of vague spiritual beliefs which have never exactly aligned with a particular religion). The JOP told me he is Episcopalian and that his vows are general enough to apply to "all denominations." Yeah...one thing I've found in the South is that people tend to assume everyone is some sort of Christian! So I gently requested no religion at all in the ceremony, and he said that would be fine. We scheduled the ceremony for Saturday at 3pm (incidentally, we could not have been married any earlier than noon on Saturday because of Louisiana's 72 hour waiting period).

A FedEx package from David's mom arrived, with a wedding band she'd had made for him when he was a kid. I knew she was going to send it, but I didn't know she would send rings for me, too! She sent a wedding band and a lovely ring with a pink stone in it (tourmaline, I think). It was an awesome surprise...I'd told David I only wanted a simple band but this was much better!

We needed witnesses! I called my mom and my sister. They were both surprised and very happy to serve as our witnesses.

I got a pedicure and decided to bake myself a vegan wedding cake.

We had our last childbirth class in the morning. I'm glad we had an activity planned, because otherwise I would have probably gotten stressed and nervous. The goal was to keep things as low-stress and casual as possible! David was being extra goofy all morning, and I was sort of crabby due to too much rushing in the morning and our late arrival at class (I hate being late for things). However, I mellowed out because I found our class fun and interesting and because David manages to amuse me even when I'm crabby.

We had some time to kill between class and the ceremony, so we went to a jewelry store to see about resizing the rings his mom had sent. His needed to be a bit bigger, so they took it and we'll get it back in a few days. Mine needed to be smaller, but since I'm pregnant they advised against resizing it now, because my hands are probably a bit swollen these days. So instead they put a metal thing in it so that it won't fall off my finger in the meantime.

We arrived at the JOP's house/chapel at the same time as my mom, who'd brought flowers! I pretty mixed bouquet for me to carry and a boutonniere for David. Soon after, my sister Becca arrived with her boyfriend Paul and Paul's teen son, Dakota. David and I went to separate rooms to change clothes, and I suggested that he might want to ask to see the vows...which was good, because apparently the JOP had forgotten my request at our meeting, and they were chock full o' Jesus. I have no problem with Jesus, we just didn't want him in our vows. So they got that straightened out. We signed the paperwork, and were ready to roll!

I was pleasantly surprised to see David looking very handsome in dress pants, white shirt and a tie. He had told me he was not going to dress fancy. He likes to mess with me. I wore my red polka dot maternity dress because, hey, it's not like I was going to wear white at 9 months pregnant! I had a perfect red heart necklace from Becca to wear with it. I actually bothered to put on makeup for the first time in months, too.

I'm not too big on social traditions (which you've probably gathered if you've read this far), and I understand why a lot of people don't think it's necessary to have the government sanction their relationship. I know plenty of people who are very committed to each other without being legally married (some of them are gay and can't get married, which pisses me off...but that's another rant). But I have to say, standing there and looking into David's eyes as we said our vows was a powerful experience for me - more than I expected it to be. I couldn't stop grinning!

When we got to the ring exchanging part, I had no ring for David because we'd just dropped it off at the jeweler's, which gave everyone a good laugh. The JOP had little fake wedding bands for this purpose, so that's what I used. The ceremony was sweet, quick, and fun. Then we took some pictures, thanked the JOP, and went out for Japanese food.

After that, we came back to our house, where we ate the little vegan wedding cake (which Dakota declared to be "even better than regular cake" - I like that kid!).

And then we were exhausted!

Sunday (today)
I woke up and saw my ring and David beside me sleeping, and the baby was wiggling around in my belly and...I don't know how to describe it. I feel this unexpected freedom, to truly love someone without worry, without holding myself back. So much of this past year has surprised me. Plans that I attempted fell through, things I never expected happened, but somehow I ended up with this smart, caring, weird and wonderful husband and soon we'll have a son. It's not a traditional story, but it's our story, and I'm living it and loving it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sedentary entertainment

I'm tired of being tired! This last month or so of pregnancy is going to drag. People ask me if I'm ready for the baby yet...I don't really know, but I do know I am ready to not be pregnant anymore! I'll deal with the whole being a mom thing and whatever that entails, I am just ready to be done with this phase!

I have the most energy when I first wake up in the morning (at around 6am - that's been consistent throughout this pregnancy). Thankfully, that is also the only time it's not insanely hot outside, or dark. So I've been going for short walks when I wake up. After the walk, I can't seem to move around much for the rest of the day, which is really depressing for a formerly active person like me.

Yesterday we went to the mall, which was great at first because I had cabin fever, but by the time we got home I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I did get a bikini top to wear in the birthing pool, because I've gotten far too busty for any that I already owned. I'm sure you're all quite excited for me.

Anyway, I finished reading The Blind Assassin, which was the Atlantic Monthly's online book club pick for June. Anyone else who's read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

I didn't end up participating much in the Twitter discussions (I'm still kind of learning to use Twitter...it's interesting but not really my online comfort zone yet), but I adored the book! It's really three stories in one - a story within a story within a story, and there is an element of mystery that kept me hooked. It is so wonderful when writers allow readers to figure things out over time, without spelling out all the details.

That's something I've noticed in giving and receiving critiques (and I'm guilty of it too): the tendency to point out any momentary confusion as something the writer needs to fix. It's not as if every single character who is named needs to be immediately supplied with a physical description and an explanation of their significance to the story. It's OK to be a bit confused when you're reading...not so confused that you give up and put the book down, but confused enough that you read on to figure things out!

I think I'll skip the Atlantic's book for July because I'm not super-interested in it and I have a big to-be-read pile going right now. Next up will be Andre Dubus III's memoir, Townie. Now to peel myself off the couch and see where David has stashed the Kindle...