Category Archives: Uncategorized

Still Slouching Toward(s) Bethlehem

BLUE NIGHTS
Joan Didion. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Whenever I take a class with Teri Stubits, trainer extraordinaire, I walk away resolved to be a better BA. Whenever I read Joan Didion’s writing, I resolve to be a better writer. Didion has been an important companion to me for most of my reading life, and while Blue Nights has been on my shelf for years, it is perhaps no coincidence that I chose this particular August, the month before lens surgery and the month of RA treatment, to read this beautiful and thoughtful commentary on the process of aging. And perhaps no coincidence that in this honest yet somehow disbelieving commentary on loss, my page marker has been the funeral card of one of my closest friends, lost suddenly and against my will.

Like Didion, I have “lived my entire life to date without seriously believing that I would age.” Yet shockingly, I am. Other people notice it before I do. Twenty-somethings call me “Ma’am.” My two-drink minimum has become a two-drink maximum. In the last 24 months, I have attended more funerals than in the previous 24 years. I dread reaching the age of invisibility. Maybe I have, and other people notice it before I do.

Yet I really didn’t want this book to end, not because of Didion’s foreshadowing of what awaits me, but because Joan Didion still writes like Joan Didion. The absolute mastery of language, of pauses, of punctuation — all still the same Joan Didion who played it as it lay. There is also that element of voyeurism. The Dunne family is to letters what the Barrymores were to theatre, and the candid glimpses into the author’s private sphere (more guarded, even clinical, in The Year of Magical Thinking) create a moving intimacy with the writer that is made all the more poignant knowing that this is, at its core, a memoir written to come to grips with the loss that sparks dread in the heart of parents. This is the loss of a parent who outlived her child. Such a loss is against nature.

My only child, like Quintana Dunne, is a child of choice and not of biology. My perfect child is safe and healthy. Didion’s daughter was safe and healthy too, until one day, she wasn’t. Surprising that a book that chronicles my own base fears could be as pleasurable as it was gripping. Perhaps a testament to the power of Didion’s craft. Most certainly a shaft of hope comes from knowing that having faced my greatest fears, Joan Didion still can wield words that take my breath away.

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Thoughts about Broken River (J. Robert Lennon)

Broken River: A NovelBroken River: A Novel by J. Robert Lennon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the 2009 comedy-drama City Island, the story revolves around situations that arise from the secrets a family keeps from one another. The comedy part of this drama comes forward when the film audience sees members of the Rizzo family moving in circles to hide the same secret — Joyce hides her smoking by doing it in her car, Vince smokes with his head through a cupola in the roof of the family home, and daughter Vivian goes to great lengths to hide her suspension from the university for, of course, smoking (something a little more potent than Virginia tobacco). When the film approaches its climax after approximately 90 minutes, the family members stop lying to one another, let their devotion come to the surface, and the family extends to include additional characters in its fold, and all grow closer as a result of supplanting truth for lies.

City Island and Broken River have nothing in common with one another, save the fact that they chronicle families whose members lie to each other. That, and the fact that if this were an exercise in Reader Response theory (which, I suppose, it is in a rather haphazard manner), one invoked the other in this reader’s mind. The film is a comedy in the truest sense, in which the characters triumph over unhappy circumstances as a means to positive change. The novel, not so much. As both a mystery and a psychological thriller, Broken River delivers the best that both genres have to offer, and as good literature should, it delivers in a fresh and innovative way.

The family of Karl, Eleanor, and 12-year-old Irina moves into a renovated house where over a decade earlier, two brutal murders occurred. The murderers were never apprehended. Perfect setting for a mystery. Add to this a family with secrets, each telling lies to the other (lies that set sinister consequences in motion), and you have a psychological thriller. Arching over all of this, add a mysterious “Observer,” who sees all but is incapable of agency. (Critics and graduate students will, I have no doubt, write theses about this “Observer” — in my reading, the Observer is quite simply us, the Readers. We see the consequences of every action but are incapable of changing the narrative.)

In City Island each lie leads the family nearer to the dramatic climax in which all is resolved. As the story climbs to this point, even the most unconventional character traits are embraced with acceptance and compassion. Young son Vinnie’s sexual fetish (Feederism) is accepted by his neighbor as a sign of his generous and nurturing spirit, reinforced when Vinnie actually establishes a healthy relationship with a plump classmate. In contrast, the dramatic climax in Broken River, while not a tragedy in the traditional sense, builds on a shaky foundation of lies and secrets that leads to a series of tragic events. Karl’s compulsions nearly destroy his family, Eleanor’s anger and frustration turned inward nearly kill her, and Irina’s innocent obsession with the decade-old murder nudges the killers back into deranged and deadly action against characters with only the most tenuous connections to the house.

Through the Observer, the reader knows what the characters cannot, and like a train gathering breakneck speed, the action moves toward a blood-chilling and surprising conclusion as all of the tracks converge. A spectacular thriller, written on multiple levels and filled with wry observations of human nature and human frailty.

Thank you, Graywolf Press, for the Advance Reader copy!

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Suspended from Facebook, I’m taking to my ‘blog….

Or, how to start a persecution complex.

And so it begins.  A close and highly-contested election draws to a close, and the vitriol continues at a much more sinister level because now, those haters of free speech and diversity feel empowered and — dare I say it — affirmed. “Disagree with me, and I will make you go away.”  And it’s all right, because “we won.”  “I don’t like anybody who doesn’t like me,” as tyrant Anthony Fremont would say before sending dissenters to the cornfield.

I take issue with this attitude, first because it is simply rude and dismissive. As a firm believer in the Constitution (the document, not the frigate), I also defend the right of anyone to exercise their freedom of speech.  If I don’t like what they say, I am free not to listen.  I am free to walk away.  I am equally free to disagree, and to say so. And lastly, I am free to vote for someone else.

And what does any of this have to do with Facebook, a tool that I use primarily to keep in touch with distant friends (most of whom share my political views), faraway relatives (most of whom do not share my political views), and a few friends with whom I simply agree to disagree?  When I freely expressed my hurt, dismay, and disappointment at the election results, one of my far right friends said she wouldn’t want to lose a friend over politics.  Another particularly far right and vocal anti-liberal said rather eloquently that my politics aren’t what she loves about me.  In short, when you care about someone, you learn to balance tolerance with acceptance.  You choose your battles because friendship is bigger than politics.  (Just look at Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia — they shared a legendary friendship though polar opposites on the political spectrum!)

My oldest friend, though, posted a rather unusual quotation on my Facebook wall. Because she is a devout Christian, her unfettered support of Donald Trump surprised me nearly as much as her toxic hatred of Hillary Clinton.  We had a brief discussion on social media — we have, after all, been friends for decades. In this discussion, I questioned Mr. Trump’s ethics.  Her response surprised me even more than her adulation of the president-elect.  “Because of Hillary Clinton, 51 million babies never had the chance to cry.”  Really?  This is all about abortion?  And Hillary Clinton is personally responsible for 51 million abortions?  If I were being honest, rather than avoiding an argument, I’d have responded that that was quite close to being the most ridiculous bit of propaganda I’ve ever heard, and it would take an idiot to repeat such nonsense.  I chose my battles.  I turned the other cheek.

I, too, am a devout Christian, but I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve.  Jesus himself said “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”, and I hope that the fruits of my life show where my faith lies.  I also know that I need to work on my own house before I judge others, and until my house is clean, I don’t feel I have the right to put on my white gloves. And so, I posted a passage from the Bible, noting that surely, no one could take issue with that.

“Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)

Was it meant to be tongue-in-cheek?  Maybe a little, because I don’t have the courage to come out on a social media site and talk about what I see as apocalyptic overtones in these election results.   What a nut job I would reveal myself to be, right?  In truth, though, my faith leans toward radical discipleship, and I do in fact believe that Mr. Trump is the False Prophet in the book of Revelation.  A prophet, by definition, is one chosen by God to speak for God in words divinely inspired.  A false prophet, then, is one who subverts that definition.  One who, perhaps, judges all Mexican people as “drug dealers and rapists,” or all Muslims as “radical terrorists.”  A False Prophet can stir up the masses with lies and deception and get them to follow him like a Pied Piper.  Give the False Prophet power, and that’s pretty apocalyptic.  But I didn’t say that.  I just posted a passage from the second letter to the Thessalonians, without a comment.  I never mentioned Mr. Trump.

And what did my oldest friend post back to me?

“One of the truest signs of maturity is the ability to disagree with someone while still remaining respectful.”  (Attributed to Dave Willis, and I confess to not knowing who he is.)

Where on earth did that come from?  Was I disrespectful?  My thoughts certainly were, but I thought quoting Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was taking the high road.  After all, anyone who reads it is free to decide what they want it to mean.  I know what I meant, but I have no control over other people’s thoughts. More importantly, how mature and respectful is it to claim that Hillary Clinton singlehandedly aborted 51 million babies?

But I digress.  The persecution complex.

This morning, I checked my Facebook page to find myself suspended for 60 days–to give the Facebook minions adequate time to “investigate.”  Someone has filed a complaint.  Of course the Facebook minions can’t tell me WHO lodged the complaint, but they can tell me what the issue was with my posts.  Apparently someone thinks I am “disrespectful, divisive, immature, and a potential threat to national security.” And Facebook assures me that they take this very seriously.

But even if I were, isn’t it my constitutional right to be?  Couldn’t the complainant just do the 21st century version of walking away and “unfriend” me?

Who on earth would say such things about me?  The only people who can see my Facebook page are people I allow to see it, so SOMEONE I KNOW has an agenda that I can’t even fathom.  The words “disrespectful” and “immature” jump out at me because of my friend’s post.  Could my oldest friend, who has known me since I still had my baby teeth, be the whistle-blower?  The person who called me a “potential threat to national security?” (Believe me, if my quoting the Bible on Facebook is a  potential threat to national security, we have bigger problems than anyone can imagine.)

Like Facebook, I too take this very seriously. Can I help it if, again, I see apocalyptic overtones in this behavior, if in fact she was the one who complained?  The fact is, someone in my circle made the complaint, and I have no doubt that the complaint was made to teach me a lesson for the way I voted and for my outspoken despair at the election results.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.” (Matthew 10:21)

Have we come this far? I hope not.  But if we have, it will only be 42 months:

The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months.  It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven.  It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. (Revelation 13: 5-7)

I hope I’m wrong and this is just a brief bout with a minor persecution complex.

Link

Where CAbi Clothes are Made

Women love to empower other women by purchasing CAbi (Carol Anderson by Design) clothing and supporting people they know while keeping the money local… but do you know where the clothes come from, and the conditions under which they are made?

The CAbi catalogs are beautiful, the website is okay (needs a proofreader and a really good Web designer), and the representatives are upbeat and supportive and really good at what they do.  The clothing isn’t all that overpriced when you look at comparable pieces at Nordstrom, Dillards, Saks, Elder-Beerman…

The  issue I have with CAbi is unfortunately a BIG ONE.  The clothes are made in China, not in one of the more modern, humane facilities where working conditions are beginning to catch up with the First World and the 21st century, but in Shanghai’s “Manufacturing City,” which is nothing more than legalized slavery.  Workers are paid virtually nothing (less than ONE U.S. dollar per day), are not allowed to leave the complex for weeks and sometimes months on end, and are forced to PAY for accommodations where they sleep in crowded, filthy conditions that are similar to puppy mills.

CAbi has its own foundation that claims to “encourage and empower women,” and that foundation supports some great not-for-profit organizations like World Vision and the International Justice Mission.  Doesn’t it seem a little counter-intuitive, then, to EXPLOIT women in the making of designer clothes for westerners and then turn around and give a portion of the profits to fight one of the very same injustices that CAbi helps to perpetuate?  No, it doesn’t make any sense to me either.

So the upside is, the clothes tend to have a timeless style that you can continue to mix and match in your wardrobe for several seasons.  Carol Anderson designs her clothes to mix well with other pieces from the same line AND from previous and future lines.  The clothing is well-made, so you can expect to get several seasons out of your new CAbi items.  Once I received an item that was NOT well made (one seam was completely missing — just an open side) and my sales rep made the arrangements to have the item replaced.  She was terrific, but the company did take 12 weeks to complete the exchange — by which time, the new season had been introduced.

Even though, as a rule, I don’t support sweat shops, I do continue to purchase a lot, and I mean a LOT of CAbi clothing because I like the experience.  That said, I feel an increasing sense of guilt and shame each time I spend $500 to $1500 per season on clothes that I know are the products of extreme exploitation.  Would we want our mothers, sisters, or daughters to be treated the way the offshore garment industry treats its workers?  Of course not!  Much as I enjoy the clothes and the parties, I may need to get out of the CAbi habit soon.

It is starting to become easier to find quality clothing, accessories, and even the occasional appliance with the “Proudly Made in U.S.A.” label.  Hopefully Carol Anderson and her company will follow the trend — and their consciences — sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, I’m not hopeful that CAbi will see the value in the “Made in USA” label.  I posted a question on their website — very gingerly — asking if they would ever consider bringing production of CAbi fashions to the U.S.  After a day, my question was deleted.  Gone without a trace.

“Made in USA” Directory Sponsored by Re-Employ America

What great news!! I will use this directory over and over again.

clothingmadeinusablog

“Made in USA” Directory Sponsored by Re-Employ America. I have found a new “Made in USA” directory called reemployamerica.us. The directory lists many different categories: large appliances, small appliances,automotive repair parts, business to business, clothing: children, clothing: infants, clothing: men, clothing: women, construction material, construction supplies, construction fixtures, cookware and dishware, electronics, furniture: office, furniture: bedroom, furniture: dining & kitchen, furniture: living room, furniture: outdoor, games, non-electronic, hobby, craft & art, home & office decor, home entertainment, household linens, jewelry, misc. household & office, music, office supplies, outdoor & recreation, pet supplies, non-food, textiles, tools, hand, tools, power, tools, yard & garden, toys, vehicle, off-road, vehicles, personal.

Interestingly enough this website also lists other Made in USA directories.

I evaluated a couple of the categories: furniture: living room and cookware and dishware. It has one of the most extensive list of Made in USA products. Of course, there are…

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