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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

catching up on a meme

Last night I was faced with the task of hemming Stella’s princess dress. (I know. It’s utterly shocking that she has chosen to be a princess for Halloween.) But I couldn’t muster the strength to go down in the basement and get the sewing machine and try to remember how to use it, so I used masking tape instead. I thought of stapling the dress, but decided the tape would be more discrete. I still have to iron it this morning (to create a professional finish).

It just seems difficult for me to manage anything these days. A thought is a struggle, writing a complete essay an impossibility. My head is an intellectual dead zone. This seems to have extended even to memes. I have two tags on which I’ve been meaning to follow-up, but it has seemed like such a big deal to sit down at the computer and just do them. (I don’t remember being this dull-witted while I pregnant with Stella, but I probably was.)

Here it goes. I was tagged by Jennifer at pinwheels to list seven of my favorite children’s books. I’m reading at a child’s level now, so this was pretty easy. Note that the following books are my favorites. Stella decides on a new favorite every day, so it would be much more difficult to track her preferences.

Ellsworth’s Extraordinary Electric Ears and Other Amazing Alphabet Anecdotes by Valorie Fisher. This book is filled with extravagant alphabetical dioramas. For example: “Pepitas pink paper parasols were particularly popular with pirates. Perfectly puzzling!” Little pirate figurines stand in front of Pepita’s store holding pink drink parasols. I love it. But the fun doesn’t stop there. The page is filled with other P figures. Can you find them all? Therein lies the challenge. Every letter is as much fun as the last.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. I actually love all of Kevin Henkes’ books, but I thought I should just pick one. Henkes is a master of creating a great kid’s story with enough quirky language to entertain adults. I must also mention Chester’s Way and Chrysanthemum. There is no end to the fun with these unusual mice.

The Listening Walk by Paul Showers, illustrated by Aliki. I’m actually not sure why I like this book so much. A girl goes on a walk with her dad and lists all the things she can hear when she is quiet and just listens. Maybe I’d like to be more like her? Capable of stopping the whirring thoughts long enough to enjoy a walk? (Of course, I’m referring to a time when I could actually think and when I was still able to go on walks.)

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. This is a beautiful book about a girl who wants to be like her grandfather and travel to faraway places and end up living by the sea. Her grandfather tells her she must do a third thing: make the world more beautiful. She grows up and travels to faraway places and settles by the sea, and then finally realizes how to make the world more beautiful. The illustrations are lovely.

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankhuyzen. This is a true story of the Berlin Airlift and the pilot who dropped candy from his plane over Berlin. I’ll admit it—it makes me tear up each time I read it.

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss. A seriously funny book about a worm and his observations on life. There is one error in this book, which I will mention lest you think it escaped me. (Stella actually noticed it before I did, but whatever.) In some of the early pages, the worms are drawn with teeth, but later in the book it is stated that worms don’t have teeth. Oops. Definitely still worth the read, though. I laughed out loud the first time I read it.

Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. This is about a girl who doesn’t give up. Her strength and determination inspire a washed-up high wire walker. A good role model for me, too.

I’ll wait on the next meme, a writing meme, until tomorrow. (See, I feel I’ve stretched my mind enough for one day.) I want to specifically tag Toby’s Mom with this meme because she reviews children’s literature on her wonderful blog, but I’d also like to extend the tag to anyone who is interested. Link to your post in the comments, so I can visit your blog for your favorite kids’ books.

Gorge yourselves on candy. I plan to.

Friday, October 26, 2007

persimmon tree

I want to encourage you all to visit Persimmon Tree, a new online literary magazine by older women (their descriptor, not mine). They launched last spring with their first issue featuring fiction by Jane Lazarre and poetry by Ruth Stone. The summer issue featured ten poems by Grace Paley, and the current issue contains Eva’s Kollish’s wonderful essay, “Father,” and eleven amazing poems by Toi Derricotte.

You have to log-in to read Persimmon Tree, but it’s free, and the writing is really wonderful. (Plus, they have a very cool orange background. Who knew orange could be so classy?)

So go log-on. Now. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

a little relief

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling so, so crabby. I’m living with a number of activity restrictions that, in combination, make me feel crazy. I mean, you take no exercise and no sex and shake that up with no red wine, and how would you feel? It doesn’t help that I’ve been working—and worrying about work—a lot lately, which is annoying because it’s not my writing/teaching work, but my pay-the-bills work.

I’d also been worrying about my ultrasound, which was two days ago. I was anxious about what kind of news we would get, and I was also crabby because I felt I had been coerced into the genetic counseling session that went with the Level II ultrasound. D. and I had decided against the blood tests and amnio and all that extra stuff, and I felt that I was now being forced into the counseling session against my will. The receptionist just kept saying, “Well, it goes with the ultrasound, and you are of advanced maternal age.”

I’m 35, people—not exactly elderly. But whatever, I agreed. I was, however, feeling quite petulant about it all, and I realized that it was a distinct possibility that I’d be a bitch to the counselor. I was relieved that D. would be there to pinch my leg if I got out of hand, but it’s generally not a good sign if I sense my bad behavior before I start behaving badly.

Well. The genetic counselor was lovely. I couldn’t have conjured a gentler, more soft-spoken, understanding woman if I’d tried. Really. Why had I been so worried about this? And she made an interesting connection between my grandmother’s two miscarriages and stillbirth (my mom is an only child) and my blood clot. I’ve been thinking about my grandmother and her pregnancy losses a lot lately, but I hadn’t made a real connection. The counselor suggested I have my blood tested for a clotting disorder that could be genetic. Very interesting.

And the ultrasound itself was such a relief. No signs of chromosomal abnormalities. No new blood clots. And the baby—a GIRL!!—was kicking around as if she was at Jr. Olympic try-outs. You go, girl.

I’m actually thrilled that it’s another girl. A boy would have been fine, of course. A healthy, full-term baby really has been the goal, though people don’t seem to believe me when I say that. It’s odd how many people just assume that I want a boy because I already have a girl. It seems so old-school to me. But I really never imagined myself as a mother to boys. Odd, I know. But there you have it.

Stella has been wanting a baby sister and insisting that the baby would be a girl, so I thought she would scream and/or jump up and down when D. and I told her, but she just smiled slightly and said in her best teenage voice, “I already told you it was a girl, mom.” Duh.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

on empathy

I’m wondering what would happen if we could—and would—regularly imagine the lives of people, real people in our country and in our world, who live lives beyond our own experience. What would happen to our public policy, and foreign policy, if we didn’t seemingly lack the ability to imagine lives?

It’s impossible, it seems, to be empathetic if you cannot imagine a reality beyond your own. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, partly because I’m reading Lisel Mueller’s collection of poems, Alive Together, which is filled with empathy, and partly because of the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School a couple of weeks ago.

Over the week of Little Rock coverage on NPR, I sat in my car, driving to work and driving Stella to pre-school, listening to the speeches from the now-middle-aged Little Rock nine and what they went through half a century ago, and I just felt so sad. Only fifty years ago. That’s nothing. It’s a blink of an eye.

As I listened, and even after I turned off the radio, the image that I couldn’t shake was one that’s in the beginning pages of Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir Warriors Don’t Cry, which describes her experiences as one of the Little Rock nine. That photo is one that most Americans should recognize: the young Elizabeth Eckford walking down the street, a mob of white women— mothers—directly behind her, screaming and angry.

I understand that hate comes from fear. I understand that difference seems scary to people. But what I cannot wrap my mind around is this: white mothers, who have their own children, being able to hate those kids because they were black. How could they lack such imagination? How could they not have imagined what those kids were going through? How could they not have imagined the nine’s own mothers, sitting at home, wringing their hands, unable to protect their kids from all that hate?

I love my Stella so much that the thought of her having to live through something like that makes me physically sick. But my protectiveness doesn’t end with her. No child should have to experience that kind of hate, ever. No mother should have to know her child is living through that kind of hate, ever.

If we were more empathic, if we weren’t so wrapped up in our own lives, would this kind of thing still happen?

I had never read Lisel Mueller’s poetry. She won the Pulitzer in 1997, and her poetry has been published since the late ‘50s, but she was new to me. (I’m forever catching up, and always feel behind my peers in terms of reading…Alas. I'm working on it.)

She’s very talented—obviously—but the thing that struck me more than anything in her poems was her empathy, her ability to see the real people living real lives beyond her own.

From “Captivity” (about Patty Hearst)

In the beginning we followed her story
as we used to follow
the girl in the fairy tale.
Pity and fear. The decent girl
cast out to be cruelly tested
in the dark forest. Sentimental,
we swore she would never falter.

So when she started turning
into her dark sister,
we felt confused, betrayed.
More and more we heard
Tania’s harder tones
usurping her soft voice.
Patty was driven underground.

She turned into Tania and we turned against her;
sooner or later the victim gets blamed.
Perhaps by then we were bored
with the innocent of the story.

From “An Unanswered Question”

If I had been the lone survivor
of my Tasmanian tribe,
the only person in the world
to speak my language
(as she was),

if I had known and believed that
(for who can believe
in an exhaustible language),
and I had been shipped
to London, to be exhibited
in a cage (as she was)
to entertain the curious
who go to museums and zoos...

I wonder: if we tried to write (and think) beginning with “if I had been…” would we be able to better access our empathy? Could we make a difference?

Friday, October 5, 2007

a bookish meme

The lovely Moonlight Ambulette memed me. The original post is here.

1. Hardcover or paperback, and why?
Paperback, because holding a hardcover hurts my wrists. And I like to carry books in my purse and a hardcover would definitely put me over my current fifteen pound limit.

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it…The Queen B, but I'm not exactly sure why. That's just the first thing that came to mind. Do you think anyone would shop there?

3. My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is…Oh, it's too hard to pick a favorite, but I love this from Lisel Mueller's poem "Curriculum Vitae" (Alive Together):

"Ordinary life: the plenty and thick of it. Knots tying
threads everywhere. The past pushed away, the future left
unimagined for the sake of the glorious, difficult, passionate

4. The author (alive or diseased) I would love to have lunch with would be …I think (today) it would be Katherine Ann Porter. I've been thinking of Pale Horse, Pale Rider so much lately.

5. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be…Well, if I didn't have my reading glasses, I could only read in short spurts or I'd end up with a perpetual headache, which doesn't seem like the best thing to have on a deserted island. But assuming I had my glasses, I think it would have to be some big fat anthology. I really love Short Fiction by 33 Writers: 3 x 33, edited by Mark Winegardner.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…Would hold my book at an angle so I could read in bed lying on my side. Maybe it could also turn the pages when I clapped.

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of…my dad's study.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would beChristo, I've no idea.

9. The most overestimated book of all time is…I'm not sure I can say "of all time," but I just didn't understand the hoopla about The Corrections. Seriously, everyone I know loved it. I couldn't deal. Just couldn't deal.

10. I hate it when a book…is twelve chapters longer than it should be.

Okay, now I'm tagging a few folks: Mardougrrl, This Mom, Susan, Vicki, and Camera Shy Momma.