"In the midst of winter I found in me an Invincible Summer." - Camus ...On exploring strength in its many forms:
strong people, strong writing, strong curiosity, obsessions, stances, and loves.
Strength as a concept wide enough to encompass fear, truth, vulnerability, and joy.
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My Favorite Read of 2017..So Far
Is there anything better than starting a book and then realizing it's even better than you realized it was going to be? And then still having hundreds of pages ahead of you that you just know are going to be amazing?
I think not.
I am wildly obsessed with Iceland. I minor in an obsession with the rest of Scandinavia. So, bully for me that it seems more and more novels out of Sweden are being translated and published. I recently picked up Fredrik Backman's My Grandmother Told Me To Tell You She's Sorry at my favorite local independent bookstore, Green Apple Books (shameless plug for a fantastic bookstore you must now visit if you ever find yourself in San Francisco). I had only a vague idea of what the book was about; I had picked it up several times in the past few weeks at various bookstores, read the first paragraph, set it back down. Then I saw the film based on his other book, A Man Named Ove, and was blown away by the depth, humor, and sweetness, and made a quick dash to the bookstore for this one.
It's so freaking good! Seven-year-old Elsa is a very believable and admirable protagonist. Her granny is hilarious, cantankerous, and Elsa's biggest fan. And she's dying. Before she does, she sets Elsa on a great adventure.
That description sounds pretty boring compared to the way storytelling and fantasy play out in the book. The characters she encounters along the way (in reality and in her imagination) are unexpected, the plot-thickening is addictive, and the seven-year-old hyper-smart point of view all worked together to create a universe I didn't want to leave.
I find it hard to read or see anything these days and not find parallels to our current political reality. This book has a few, even though it has zero things to do with the current political reality (and thank goodness for that; there has to be some kind of balance to all the terrifying headlines that appear hourly). This line from Granny felt a call to arms for those of us who don't fit easily into categories: "Only different people change the world. No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing." And this passage in particular struck me as an appropriate allegory for resistance today, also from Granny:
"The Girl Who Said No" was one of the first stories Elsa ever heard from the Land-of-Almost-Awake. It was about the Queen of Miaudacas, one of the six kingdoms. In the beginning the queen had been a courageous and fair-minded princess very much liked by all, but unfortunately she grew up and became a frightened adult, as adults tend to be. She started loving efficiency and avoiding conflict. As adults do.
And then the queen simply forbade all conflict in Miaudacas. Everyone had to get along all the time. And because nearly all conflicts start with someone saying "no," the queen also made this word illegal. Anyone breaking this law was immediately cast into a huge Naysayers' Prison, and hundreds of soldiers in black armor who were known as Yea-Sayers patrolled the streets to make sure there were no disagreements anywhere. Dissatisfied with this, the queen had soon outlawed not only the word "no" but also other words including "not" and "maybe" and "well." Any of these were enough to get you straight to prison, where you'd never again see the light of day.
After a couple of years, words like "possibly" and "if" and "wait and see" had also been made illegal. In the end no one dared say anything at all. And then the queen felt that she might as well make all talking illegal, because almost every conflict tended to start with someone saying something. And after that there was silence in the kingdom for several years.
Until one day a little girl came riding in, singing as she went. And everyone stared at her, because singing was an extremely serious crime in Miaudacas, because there was a risk of one person liking the song and another disliking it. The Yea-Sayers sprang into action to stop the girl but they couldn't catch her because she was very good at running. So the Yea-Sayers rang all the bells and called for reinforcements. Upon which the queen's very own elite force, known as the Paragraph Riders--because they ride a very special kind of animal that was a cross between a giraffe and a rule book--came out to stop the girl. But not even the Paragraph Riders could lay their hands on her, and in the end the queen in person came rushing out of her castle and roared at the girl to stop singing.
But then the girl turned to the queen, stared her right in the eye, and said "No." And as soon as she had said it, a piece of masonry fell off the wall around the prison. And when the girl said "No" one more time, another piece of masonry fell. And before long, not only the girl but all the other people in the kingdom, event the Yea-Sayers and the Paragraph Riders, were shouting "No! No! No!" and then the prison crumbled.
And that was how the people of Miaudacas learned that a queen only stays in power for as long as her subjects are afraid of conflict.
I've been avoiding putting this together, because a part of me really doesn't want this year's Litquake festival to be over already. The other part of me is still cranky-tired, wandering around trying to get to all those projects I said I'd get to after Litquake, and feeling post-Christmas like. In short, this year's Litquake was AMAZING. Every year has been awesome, but this one was particularly special for me because I got to actually help plan the awesome. As a volunteer during the festival for the past several years, I definitely felt like I contributed to making each event I helped at awesome, but this year, being on the committee,* I got to witness the tremendous build up to the festival that happens the whole year prior. The amount of love, sweat and time that goes into it is incredible, and I'm not sure I've ever been part of something so cool. Which is not to say I'm not still cranky-tired and looking forward to feeling fully recovered.
“When I think about all that has to transpire to get from pregnancy to the birth, I am overwhelmed by time and the unknown. It’s not useful to contemplate. There is only today, and it is good.” I documented my move from ambivalence about parenting, to IVF, to motherhood, as well as all of Year One. I did it longhand because that’s what I did back then. So now, finally, I’m typing all those pages up, in part because of the great What If that living amid a pandemic creates. And I came across this yesterday and it is so true for the current moment, for this, the fifth week of Sheltering in Place. Ways this time is like pregnancy: It can make you fat. It will definitely make you crave near-constant meals and snacks. You will swing from feeling good to anxiety-laden, angry, irritable and back again several times a day. You will want to know how this will all unfold, how hard it will get, exactly how you and your life will be changed. You can’t know any of that. Ther
I promise to talk about less domestic things at some point, but I'm still in that critical nesting-the-place-up mode. And I just bought a desk! Now, I did have a writing desk in my old place. It was also my breakfast nook, dining room table and chopping block. It served its purposes well. It had been in my family's home as a kitchen work surface, then I adopted it when I lived in Chico (way back in '96-'99) and used it as a dining room table. Then it lived in my kind, former roommate's family's barn for a few years while I was away at Seminary, and she kindly gifted it back, complete with little mouse teeth nibble marks when I moved into San Francisco. That table and I had history. I wrote a memoir of all the homes I'd lived in on it, all of my MFA papers were written there, and the novel that I finished earlier this year was entirely drafted and re-crafted there. And given my proclivity to inanimate object loyalty (see The Blue Armchair ), I felt b