Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Daniel-ay's Blob-Along to 'A Lesson Before Dying'

Dear friends, 

I know I have been absent here of late. Many projects, both personal and professional, are competing for my time and attention, but I want to continue to make time for reading and for sharing my reading experiences with you all. 

I hope that the onset of fall is treating you all well, and that you have the chance to read something pleasurable in the coming days as the leaves fall and the wind picks up a chill. 

Here's a much-belated blob-along from my good friend Dan, who read A Lesson Before Dying with me, and then shared his thoughts.

A Lesson Before Dying…
I write these first thoughts upon concluding the book this afternoon. They’re quick and hasty, so please forgive any hasty construction or hasty development of my thoughts and words…

What is this “Lesson”? We spend so much time asking others for comfort, when we can’t learn to embrace the discomfort ourselves. And yet, in the end, the very end, we stand, more comforted, when we know that we should face the discomfort head on.
  • "I was not there, yet I was there."
The beginning line of the book. Grant Wiggins begins by recounting Jefferson’s trial. These words immediately reminded me so much of another line from another book “It was and it was not so … it happened and it never did” aka “Once upon a time.” … (Thanks to Wikipedia for the following)
- In Arabic: كان يا ما كان،في قديم الزمان، وسالف العصر والأوان  There was, oh what there was (or there wasn't) in the oldest of days and ages and times...
- In Chinese: 很久很久以前... A very very long time ago…
- In Filipino: Noong unang panahon… At the beginning of time...
- In Polish: Za siedmioma górami, za siedmioma rzekami… Beyond seven mountains, beyond seven rivers… 
- In Italian: C’era una volta… There was a time…  

And always seemingly implying, But not here, not now.

The things (lies?) we tell ourselves. And although the stories aren’t “true”, they are so very very true.

We live a contradiction, we (white) americans, we colonizers, we slavers. We see the past and pretend that stuff being in the past does not make it so now: “It was, and it IS NOT so.” But not here, not now, we tell ourselves.

These following cruel, painful, gross, disgusting words in the novel come from Jefferson’s own lawyer, and they sound like they could come from today. And they set in motion the whole purpose for the book:
  • Look at the shape of this skull, this face as flat as the palm of my hand - look deeply into those eyes. Do you see a modicum of intelligence?
  • To plan, gentlemen of the jury? No, gentlemen, this skull here holds no plans. What you see here is a thing that acts on command. A thing to… [etc. etc. etc.]
  • Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.
As heart-wrenching as this book was, and as it was to read your analysis, Meredeeeece, I was pleased to see how we both chose to highlight a couple of the same passages, a couple of the same feelings, and yet had found different moments that moved us as well. There’s such deep contradiction as a theme in this book, and I have a feeling of such inadequacy even commenting on it. But onward! I hope I can learn from these inadequacies, and so, towards the end of this post, I leave most of it in the author’s words. This book was supposed to be on the syllabus for my freshman English class when I was in high school. And we didn’t get to it. And I so deeply regret that the teacher didn’t get these words in front of our student eyes of privilege. We need more words by people of color in this country to be read and heard and appreciated and valued and celebrated.

A testimony to the brilliance of Ernest J. Gaines's writing were these delicate moments in the novel that were interwoven with humor, yet also dark humor. Laughter even among the pain. These often came between Grant and his love, Vivian. Hope among the darkness.
  • “When was the last time I told you I loved you?” “A second ago.” “I should say it more often,” I said.
  • “How much have you had to drink, Grant?” “A whole fucking barrel of commitment,” I said, and raised my glass.
  • Vivian smiled without opening her mouth. I kissed her on the tip of her nose. “Uh-uh,” she said. “Not in public. I have too much quality for that.”
And then there were moments where you see the daily pain and cruel psychological, institutional influence of racism. Where the white man Henri asserts his covert attempt to control the psyche of his staff:
  • But Henri Pichot had not thought it was necessary to tell him. At his age, he was still only a messenger to run errands. To learn anything, he had to attain it by stealth or through an innate sense of things around him. He nodded to me, knowing that I knew he knew why Henri Pichot wanted to see me, and he walked away, head down.
And where Henri not-so-covertly tries to degrade Grant:
  • … it seemed that he and the sheriff were doing everything they could to humiliate me even more by making me wait on them. Well, I had to put up with that because of those in the quarter, but I damned sure would not add hurt to injury by eating at his kitchen table.
And still there were moments throughout the book where you could feel the tension of race pushed on the reader by the author himself… Moments when the character Grant would point out to the reader that he intentionally spoke “correctly” or “incorrectly” (n.b. from a white person’s perspective), in accordance with how Grant wanted to convey something to the white recipient, as if the author was also calling out to the white reader, “See! See! Look how you presume! Look how you also don’t know how to feel! Feel the tension within yourself!”

Here, a former teacher talks to Grant about the futility of teaching…but also of life?...of white people?:
  • “...You’ll see that it’ll take more than five and a half months to wipe away – peel – scrape away the blanket of ignorance that has been plastered and replastered over those brains in the past three hundred years.”
  • “Any advice?” I asked him. “It doesn’t matter anymore,” he said. “Just do the best you can. But it won’t matter.”
Here, words that still ring true, and should call upon our society with shame:
  • Twelve white men say a black man must die, and another white man sets the date and time without consulting one black person. Justice?
  • … with no proof that you had anything at all to do with the crime other than being there when it happened. Yet six months later they come and unlock your cage and tell you, We, us, white folks all, have decided it’s time for you to die, because this is the convenient date and time.
Meredeeece, you highlighted these passages, and I too was struck by these wounding words:
  • It was the kind of “here” that asked the question, When will all this end? When will a man not have to struggle to have money to get what he needs “here”? When will a man be able to live without having to kill another man “here”?
And the myth:
  • The last thing they ever want is to see a black man stand, and think, and show that common humanity that is in us all. It would destroy their myth. They would no longer have justification for having made us slaves and keeping us in the condition we are in. As long as none of us stand, they’re safe.
Meredeece, your commentary on the afterlife/hereafter/God also resonated with me. These moments from the book jumped off the page to me….Here, the devastating, emotional spill from the minister:
  • That’s why you you look down on me, because you know I lie. At wakes, at funerals, at weddings – yes, I lie. I lie at wakes and funerals to relieve pain. ’Cause reading, writing, and ’rithmatic is not enough. You think that’s all they sent you to school for? They sent you to school to relieve pain, to relieve hurt – and if you have to lie to do it, then you lie. You lie and you lie and you lie.
And here, Grant’s own emotional challenges:
  • Don’t tell me to believe. Don’t tell me to believe in the same God or laws that men believe in who commit these murders. Don’t tell me to believe that God can bless this country and that men are judged by their peers. Who among his peers judged him? Was I there? Was the minister there? Was Harry Williams there? Was Farrell Jarreau? Was my aunt? Was Vivian? No, his peers did not judge him – and I will not believe.
  • Yet they must believe. They must believe, if only to free the mind, if not the body. Only when the mind is free has the body a chance to be free. Yes, they must believe, they must believe. Because I know what it means to be a slave. I am a slave.
To end:
“... And he walked straight, Grant Wiggins. Straight he walked. I’m a witness. Straight he walked.”

In thinking on today's America, on taking a knee, the NFL, friends drowning in whiteness, all of Ernest's words and Dan's reflectionson those words are worth revisiting, if only so we can see that we are not there yet. We are here, but we are not there, the place where we want to be, the America that I want to live in and be proud of. To get there, we have much work to do, and I hope you will do the work with me, blobbists. Love and leaves to all of you!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post is for Trayvon Martin. 
It is for Freddie Gray. 
It is for Walter Scott,
Philando Castile, 
Alton Sterling,
Terence Crutcher,
Keith Scott,
Christian Taylor,
Michael Brown, 
Ezell Ford, 
Eric Garner, 
Tamir Rice, 
Sandra Bland,
Rekia Boyd, 
Shereese Francis, 
Ramarley Graham, 
Manuel Loggins, Jr., 
Sean Bell, 
Kendra James, 
LaTanya Haggerty, those who I have failed to list because it is a traumatizingly large group, and every person whose name did not make this list simply because they died in silence and their injustice has yet to be named.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Like Bigger, Jefferson,
a young black man,
must die.

This we know from the start.

The question then, is not how
but when?

And in the time
before the shocking current
reverberates through his veins and brain
what parts of his humanity
will this world allow him
to retain?

Enter Grant Wiggins,
unwilling participant,
reluctant teacher, fellow black man,
staying, simultaneously wanting
to run away as fast as he can.

Cell block conversations,
family visits,
shared sweet potatoes -
even a radio makes its way
to Jefferson as if to say
perhaps this is a nightmare after all
and there is still time
for you
to wake up.

But the nightmare is the truth
and death is certain still, you see,
the time is fixed
we know it will be
some time between noon and three.

Shaken and shaking,
but firmly a man,
Jefferson does not sit but stand.

Heard for miles,
a humdrum horror,
sanctioned, legal, still - a scandal
Louisiana blows him out like a candle.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Dear blobbists, 
   I hope that this blob finds you well, or as well as can be, given the current state of affairs. I have been struggling to craft this post both because I wanted to honor the heft of its content, and because recent events left me wondering, yet again, whether we are in a desperate circle. But, as Dr. King reminds us, we must speak out, or our silence will be what our friends remember, louder even than the voices of the hateful supremacists in Charlottesville or Charleston. So here are my thoughts, simply put, aired without expectation, but with the hope that they will speak over the silence of others.

Narrators, not unreliable, but rather unwilling
Choosing Grant Wiggins as the narrator of this story was a fascinating choice, and one that confused me at first. Grant is sent to the jail to help Jefferson understand that he is 'not a hog, but a man' before he dies, a mission devised by Jefferson's nannan (godmother), seemingly his only kin. They are all living on a plantation in Louisiana, no longer slaves but tied to the land. Grant's interest in this task is minimal at best, and he undertakes the project under extreme pressure from his own aunt, Tante Lou.
  Grant's unwillingness to confront this effort had this ingenious way of mirroring how I felt about reading the book at all. Here are a few lines that illustrate this push-and-pull, this internal tension:

Grant, on wanting to spend time with Vivian, his lady, instead of going to see Jefferson:
"I didn't want to think about that cell uptown. I wanted to think about more pleasant things."

and later, when the time of Jefferson's execution is fixed:
"That's where you come in, Reverend. I'm going for a walk, a long walk in the opposite direction."

At several points (choosing to read this book, reading this book, writing this blog) all I wanted to do was talk a long walk in the opposite direction and think about more pleasant things. And while, for our own survival, and our own happiness, it's important to create space for those pleasant things (and for long walks!), I think it's equally important to climb into this challenging headspace, inhabit the discomfort of harsh realities, and, one labored breath at a time, turn and face the fictional demons that haunt our nation's painful past, listening closely, as their doppelgängers often duplicate and divide us still today.

So here's a long walk we can all pretend that we've just taken, during which we've thought of many pleasant things, 
"Of shoes - and ships - and sealing-wax -
Of cabbages - and kings -
And why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings.'"

And once you've decided whether pigs have wings (it's really up to you, you know!) we can, as a group, move on to that challenging headspace together.

Ok. Off we go!

Referents and reverberations
Some of my most faithful readers (A VERY SELECT FEW) will know that I have recently started a section where I speak about things that either feel as though they've informed a work or come out of it. This is not to suggest that I am drawing clear lines of connection (SOOPRIZE! I'm not omniscient!) but rather that the web linking these works was apparent to me, in my mind.

(1) To choke, to suffocate, to bear a burden.
Native Son, by Richard Wright (published in 1940)
Bigger: "They own everything. They choke you off the face of the earth. They after you so hot and hard you can only feel what they doing to you. They kill you before you die."

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (published in 2015)
"The [American] Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.”

A Lesson Before Dying (published in 1993, set in the 1940s)
Grant, to Vivian: "For my aunt and Irene it is the same. Who else does my aunt have? She has never been married. She raised my mother because my mother's mother, who was her sister, gave my mother to her when she was only a baby, to follow a man whom the South had run away. Just as my own mother and my own father left me with her, for greener pastures. And for Irene and for others there in the quarter, it's the same. They look at their fathers, their grandfathers, their uncles, their brothers - all broken. They see me - and I, who grew up on that same plantation, can teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. I can give them something that neither a husband, a father, nor a grandfather ever did, so they want to hold on as long as they can. Not realizing that their holding on will break me too."

And later, Grant, to Jefferson: "I need to know what to do with my life. I'm needed here and I know it, but I feel that all I'm doing here is choking myself."

Television show Being Mary Jane, S2E6, aired in 2015
A conversation between Sheldon, a black man, and Mary Jane, a black woman, recounting his experience:

Sheldon: Did you know that étouffée in French literally translates to "suffocate?" To smother.
Mary Jane: What's your point? I'm guessing you're trying to make one.
Sheldon: My point is that black men in America today, like Brian Ellis, have been smothered literally their whole lives. Smothered as they clawed their way up the ranks. Smothered by corporate greed. Smothered by racism. By oppression. Smothered by hatred. Smothered by fear. Smothered by a system that truly never wanted to see them succeed. And why do you think that is? Jealousy. Obama's walk was inspired by Michael Jordan's dunk, was inspired by John Coltrane's solo, by Malcolm X's thoughts.
Mary Jane: Can you drive the car straight? Because I have low blood sugar.
Sheldon: Black men represent freedom, and that's what they're trying to squash.

What strikes me in these four moments is how aptly each one fits with the others. If you're concerned by the dates and the seeming lack of difference in sentiment despite the decades between them, then good. You should be. I know I am.

(2) To run, to sprint, to hasten away.
It's not surprising that given the state of emergency which is presented as potential inhabitable existence, the black man in literature is struck often with an urgent desire to flee, literally or metaphorically, whether it's in times of literal or moral slavery:

Jefferson, when he was witness to the robbery and knew he would be considered guilty of murder:
"He wanted to run, but he couldn't run. He couldn't even think. He didn't know where he was. He didn't know how he had gotten there. He couldn't remember ever getting into the car. He could remember a thing he had done all day."

Grant, on advice given to him about growing up as a black man in the south: "He had told us then that most of us would die violently, and those who did not would be brought down to the level of beasts. Told us that there was no other choice but to run and run."

in Beloved, when Paul D got help from a Cherokee tribe to run away from Sweet Home plantation:
"Follow the tree flowers to find north. Only the tree flowers. As they go, you go. You will be where you want to be when they are gone."

(3) To rain, to storm, to prevent adventures.
At one point in the novel, Grant's visits to Jefferson seem to have broken through, and Jefferson starts to make observations about life, from the food he's brought to the weather outside. At one point, he's speculating about the forecast, and Grant says, 
"I hope it's the kind of day you want, Jefferson."

I loved this line and its tenderness, and it reminded me of one of my favorite lines from 'To the Lighthouse' by Virginia Woolf. The book's title is a reference to a potential trip to the lighthouse that James, a young boy, is to make with Mrs. Ramsay. Mr. Ramsay officiously asserts that the weather will be wretched, and that the trip will have to be postponed. Mrs. Ramsay is devastated for James, and tries to keep a cautiously optimistic outlook on the weather to come. She turns to James and says, "Perhaps you will wake up and find the sun shining and the birds singing."

(4) To die, to sleep - to sleep, perchance to dream. 
Grant gives Jefferson a pencil and a notebook to record his thoughts, and this is one of his last:
"sun goin down an i kno this the las one im gon ever see but im gon see one mo sunrise cause i aint gon sleep tonite.
* * *
im gon sleep a long time after tomoro."

which reminded me of this line from Sydney Carton, who also faces execution for a crime he did not commit, though under rather different circumstances (and not by chair, but by guillotine):
"There is nothing to do until tomorrow. I can't sleep."

How much can one word hold?
Grant wants to give Jefferson a radio to listen to in his cell, something to call his own before he dies, but he can't afford to buy it by himself, so he asks for donations from the community. My favorite moment of offering is Thelma, the wife of the owner of the Rainbow Club, the local bar and café:
"When I was finished, she put a wrinkled ten-dollar bill on the counter by my plate.
'Here.'
 It was the kind of 'here' your mother or your big sister or your great-aunt or your grandmother would have said. It was the kind of 'here' that let you know this was hard-earned money but, also, that you needed it more than she did, and the kind of 'here' that said she wished you had it and didn't have to borrow it from her, but since you did not have it, and she did, then 'here' it was, with a kind of love. It was the kind of 'here' that asked the question, When will all this end? When will a man not have to struggle to have money to get what he needs 'here'?" So much weight for one syllable.

What comes after? Does anyone know?
I liked that Grant didn't believe in heaven. I don't say this to be incendiary, or offensive, or to suggest that I have any conception of what afterlife(or lives) do or don't exist. Simply that I appreciated that the emphasis for Grant was on reinforcing Jefferson's manhood and personhood before he died, not simply lining up a potential hereafter. The local reverend also visits Jefferson, and Grant is clear that he is not working to nullify or negate any of the reverend's message, just that he personally doesn't believe. Unfortunately for Grant (and for me) his disbelief is met with condescension, much as it is in my most recent books, but at least it is expressed honestly on Grant's part, and he is not deterred in allowing it a space in how he sees this present world and his work with Jefferson.

Who decides if and when we die?
I'm generally opposed to the death penalty, as I don't think it's our right to decide when life should end for other people, regardless of their crime. I know the issue is complex, so I will leave my thoughts at that, for now. If you were curious, though, 
  • The electric chair is 'optional' in AL, FL, SC, and VA - lethal injection is the go-to method, but the chair is still presented as a choice (lucky them).
  • The death penalty is legal in 31 United States and 58 countries in total. 
  • Twenty people (all men) were executed in the United States in 2016. Sixteen men were executed this year. Of those thirty-six, nine of them were black men.
Words I knew not then but I know now, in many cases because I did not grow up in Looosiana:
chifforobe - a piece of furniture with drawers on one side and hanging space on the other

sugarcane - a perennial tropical grass with tall stout jointed stems from which sugar is extracted. The fibrous residue can be used as fuel, in fiberboard, and for a number of other purposes. OK, so I knew LOOSELY what sugarcane was, but I didn't know it had so many uses, or that this is what it looked like!

filé - pounded or powdered sassafras leaves used to flavor and thicken soup, especially gumbo

cush-cush - a tropical American yam that produces a number of tubers on each plant (cmidbdis?)

It's close to bedtime for me now, and I am exhausted in my body and my brain, my thoughts and my soul. I will leave you with my three favorite exchanges between Grant and Jefferson.

"Do you know what a hero is, Jefferson? A hero is someone who does something for other people. He does something that other men don't and can't do. He is different from other men. He is above other men. No matter who those other men are, the hero, no matter who he is, is above them. I am not that kind of person, but I want you to be. The white people out there are saying that you don't have it - that you're a hog, not a man. But I know they are wrong. You have the potentials. We all have, no matter who we are." You have the potentials, I have the potentials, we all have the potentials. We do!

"Do you know what a myth is, Jefferson? A myth is an old lie that people believe in. White people believe that they're better than anyone else on earth - and that's a myth. The last thing they ever want is to see a black man stand, and think, and show that common humanity is in us all. It would destroy their myth. They would no longer have justification for having made us slaves and keeping us in the condition we are in. As long as none of us stand, they're safe. They're safe with me. I don't want them to feel safe with you anymore." Unfortunately, it's they who don't feel safe with us, but I echo this sentiment, and hope we can build a path to the future where all men and women stand and fight, particularly the ones we have repressed and oppressed and forced to kneel over the years.

Grant, speaking to Jefferson early on:
"It don't matter," I heard him say. He was looking up at the ceiling.
"What don't matter?"
He didn't answer.
"What don't matter, Jefferson?"
"Nothing don't matter", he said, looking up at the ceiling but not seeing the ceiling.
"It matter to me, Jefferson," she said. "You matter to me."

I may not be able to undo bigotry with my words, or bring the wrongfully dead back to life, but I can exert power in this small corner of the world where I have created safety for all. I can use my power to say that I will fight injustice, I will do better to protect you and yours, and it and you matter to me, always. Keep each other safe. Keep faith. Good night.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Playing with time and space is a dangerous game.

A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Many Waters, and
An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Five novels which together make up the 'Time Quintet')
Spoiler Alert: Plot pudding
These books are about any number of things, not limited to, but including God, time, family, adventure, and growing up. Now that I've finished them all, their individual plots have formed a conglomerate in my brain, and I'm having a hard time pulling them apart. Here's a snapshot of what I remember from each one (as you can see, I haven't promised a summary, but rather a gelatinous understanding):

Time, somewhat wrinkledy
characters: Meg Murry and her younger brother Charles Wallace, their father, a schoolmate named Calvin, several angel/star/oldlady-people with funny names along the lines of Mrs. Whatchamacallit
locale: New England, utopian planets, dystopian planets, you know. the usual.
goal: save Mr. Murry, then CW from evil brain thing
outcome: success and safe return to grand ole' New England

Door, breezes near the
characters: Meg Murry, Calvin, Charles (sort of - it's complicated), a cherubim named Proginoskes, the principal of CW's school, Mr. Jenkins
locale: New England, Charles Wallace's mitochondria (yes. you read that right.)
goal: save CW from the evil Mr. Murry, then CW from evil Echthroi (gezundheit)
outcome: success - CW is healed!

Planet, the leaning tower of
characters: Meg Murry, Charles, a bunch of people from the past (not, like, yesterday, but more like eons ago), Calvin's mom
locale: New England, in a variety of centuries, specifically the star-watching rock in the Murry's yard
goal: stop the Cuban missile crisis by intervening in the past (basically. change some names and you've got the gist)
outcome: success. messing with the past always works out, right?

Waters, and lots of 'em
characters: Sandy and Dennys Murry (I know, who? the twin brothers of CW and Meg), Noah (as in, the ark), some unicorns, some seraphim, some evil anti-angel-type creatures
locale: New England, a desert from whence came the ark (if you go for that sort of thing)
goal: get back to New England, help build the ark (like you do when you find yourself nearby)
outcome: success, with a few horrifying sunburns along the way.

Time, suiting everyone
characters: Meg's daughter, Polly, Mr. and Mrs. Murry, Polly's suitor Zachary, a bunch of druids, a bishop
locale: New England, again in both the present and a real long time ago
goal: unite warring tribes, get unstuck in the past
outcome: success, with the occasional 'whoops you almost become a blood sacrifice' moments.

There you have it, blobbists, a veritable tahPeeOHHka of a précis!
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Well, friends, the year of July has come and gone, and I've spent it in any number of places, all of which were too hot for my taste. I finished these books some time ago, but I was disappointed in the process of reading them, which slowed me down substantially in both the reading and the plotting of this blob. 

Nearly every person I told I was reading this series said something to the effect of, "oh, I have fond memories of A Wrinkle in Time, but I can't remember what it was really about... and then smiled off into the distance". Which describes exactly why I wanted to read the books in the first place. That, coupled with the fact that my sister Diana had a bear named Charles Wallace. I came across him the last time I was home -->

That being said, and I hate to stomp on anyone's childhood nostalgia here (mine included!), I was underwhelmed. While the construct of the books is intriguing, and I think her conceptual fantasy world is quite engaging, I could not, as an adult reader, separate out the Christian, borderline proselytizing nature of the works. We all know that fantasy and Christianity are no strangers to each other (ahem, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Pullman, even some might say, Ms. Rowling) but this felt like it reached a point where the religion was more real than the fantasy, which bothered me. 

Here are the bits that resonated with me, at any rate:

The British are coming, the British are coming
Some of you know that I aspire to write my own YA fantasy novel series, and I was only further inspired to do so when I realized that these books are the only fantasy novels I cherish by an American author (unless I'm missing someone, which is highly possible. To be clear, I'm not saying there are no American fantasy writers - that's ridiculous - just that the ones that stick out in my memory are all by.... BRITISH PEOPLE.

Here's the list I came up with:
BRITISHLAND:
- J.R.R.Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings)
- C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia)
- J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series)
- Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy, including The Golden Compass)
- Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass) (which, amusing, was referenced several times in the Time quintet, including the gifting of an unbirthday present, which I quite liked)

AMERICALAND:
- Madeleine L'Engle (Time Quintet)

So clearly we need to work on our fantasy game. It's not like England is the only place we can build imaginary worlds from!


What sound what a star make in your world of fiction?
Just curious. In these books, the sound stars speak in the voice of an English horn (pictured left, think an oboe but slightly bulbous and slightly deeper in timbre). I found this delightful, because the English horn is my favorite wind instrument, and the one I would most like to play if I added on to my cello skillz. For an example of its sound, listen to the first minute or so of this exchange between the English horn and the oboe, from Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. 
video

Nicknames, nicknames are so fun, nicknames are for everyone
What's your favorite nickname that someone has called you? I'm not sure. I like 'Mere', but only some of the time, and it depends on who the person is. I think the search is still out for a nickname that I love. Meg gets quite a few nicknames in the books, and I found them very endearing. These included Meglet, Megatron, and Megaparsec. 

Fermi's paradox - are we alone out here?
Are you familiar with Fermi's paradox? I wasn't until a few weeks ago, on one of my many work-related travels. It came up on a podcast, This American Life, I believe, and one of the producers was trying to explain why it makes him feel very down sometimes. 

Here's how the interwebs describes it: "The Fermi paradox or Fermi's paradox, named after physicist Enrico Fermi, is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability estimates, e.g., those given by the Drake equation, for the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations."

In other words, there's a really high probability we're not alone, but there's also no evidence of extraterrestrial life. So what gives? I'm not sure how it makes me feel. I don't know if lonely is quite right, but maybe more like isolated? Solitary? I know those are pretty close approximations, but I can't quite put a word to the feeling. How does it make you feel? 

I thought of it when I came across this exchange:
"You mean your planet revolves about all isolated in space? Aren't you terribly lonely? Isn't he?
'He?'
'Or she. Your planet. Aren't you lonely?'
'Maybe we are, a little,' Calvin conceded. 'But it's a beautiful planet."

Religion is not invited to my fantasy party.
I don't want to dwell on this, because I've already mentioned it above. My concern with religion here is not so much that it's present, but rather that it's presented in kind of a condescending fashion. L'Engle adds an atheist in the final book, and he's looked down as someone who just "can't come around", and as an agnostic/atheist/spiritualbutnotorganizedreligion person myself, I was offended. It also felt like because she was dealing with science and space and time, she was defining biblical events as real, which is a leap for me, in that some of it is grounded in scientific fact, but not large parts of it. I think I just wanted her to take the opportunity to make the science evident in fantasy, so it was disappointing to me that she made science into a sort of side-lens for religion.

What form does evil take for you?
I've read quite a few books for this blob, and evil takes any number of forms, from Sauron to Randall Flagg, to groupthink, to Voldemort. Here's my favorite definition of evil from these works:
"What could there be about a shadow that was so terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?" it reminded me of a dementor.

I also liked this line from Charles Wallace:
"We have to make decisions, and we can't make them if they're based on fear." and this line from Mr. Murry: "Don't be afraid to be afraid."

because they reminded me of one of my favorite lines from Dune: 
"Fear is the mind-killer."

Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.
That's a Dorothy Parker line, that I love to hate, as a woman who wears glasses. I loved this moment between Calvin and Megatron:
"Calvin, to Meg: Do you know that this is the first time I've seen you without your glasses?"
'I'm blind as a bat without them. I'm near-sighted, like Father.'
'Well, you know what, you've got dream-boat eyes,' Calvin said. 'Listen, you go right on wearing your glasses. I don't think I want anybody else to see what gorgeous eyes you have."

I thought this was great, in that it both emphasized Meg's beauty AND encouraged her continued wearing of glasses (albeit as a screening mechanism against other suitors). I have been told by a few people (not men, more like Mar and Mama Monroe, and my pcp, most recently) that I have beautiful eyes, but I do kind of enjoy keeping them a secret sometimes. Also, if you can't tell someone's beautiful around or behind their glasses, then you have no business being interested.

We're not seeing other people yet. 
When Charles Wallace first meets Mrs. Whatsit, who is a star/old-lady person, he doesn't want to let Meg in on it, which I kind of love:

"Who's Mrs. Whatsit?' Meg asked.
'I think I want to be exclusive about her for a while," Charles Wallace said." shhh! she's a SECRET star person!

A parliament of owls, an unkindness of ravens, a drive of dragons, a destruction of wild cats
I have a special affinity for the names of groups of animals, so I thought I would share these samplings. The drive of dragons is featured in the second book, I believe, and I wanted to share as my fun fact when I visited my old Breakthrough site that a group of domestic cats is a litter, but a group of wild cats is known as a DESTRUCTION. How awesome is that? Other favorites:

a QUIVER of cobras
a CHARM of hummingbirds
an UNKINDNESS of ravens
a MURDER of crows
an EXULTATION of skylarks

Cocoa in the kitchen, a fire in the hearth, bread baking in the oven, a room in the attic
The best part of these books for me was the Murry's home itself, which I think was part of why I was disappointed when I realized that each book starts there, but generally takes place elsewhere (in time or location, or both). I loved the idea of the fantasy, but their house was where I wanted to cozy up and settle in. 

Here are some things that I loved in terms of setting or the Murrys:
  • The star-watching rock - this is a rock that's near their house, where they watch the stars, and also the location for many jumps in time
  • The vegetable garden - contains things such as legumes, dragons, and the occasional snake
  • Cocoa on the bunsen burner - in several scenes, a Murry family member makes cocoa on Mrs. Murry's bunsen burner, and it made me nostalgic for cups of cocoa with my mom and Wilbur's
  • New England autumn - one of the things I miss the most about New Hampshire is the spectacular fall foliage. The 'peak' of the season was always a point of much debate, but this never took away from their majestic beauty. ;)
  • Cinnamon toast - someone makes it in the Murry's kitchen - I haven't had cinnamon toast regularly since kindergarten, when Mrs. Fellin used to make it for us
  • Schubert's trout quintet - featured in the books, and a favorite of both my mom and moi-même
  • Orion's belt - picked out in the sky at a variety of ages in time, special to me because I wear it on my sleeve (literally) and it's the first constellation I remember my mom pointing out to me in the night sky
Words, wondrous words
tesseract - "the fifth dimension - add it to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around". In geometry, the tesseract is the four-dimensional analog of the cube; the tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square. See visual representation on right -->



"Oh, we don't travel at the speed of anything," Mrs. Whatsit explained earnestly. "We tesser. Or you might say, we wrinkle."

also, a British band

anorak - a waterproof jacket, typically with a hood, of a kind originally used in polar regions

moonset - the setting of the moon below the horizon

corona (in astronomy) - the rarefied gaseous envelope of the sun and other stars. The sun's corona is normally visible only during a total solar eclipse when it is seen as an irregularly shaped pearly glow surrounding the darkened disk of the moon.

contumacious (especially of a defendant's behavior) stubbornly or willfully disobedient to authority - how great is the phonetic spelling? (känt(y)o͝oˈmāSHəs)

Lines I Liked:
  • I'm full of bad feeling.
  • Wild nights are my glory.
  • You don't have to understand things for them to be.
  • You don't know how lucky you are to be loved.
  • Good galaxy, no!
  • Though we travel together, we travel alone.
  • There are dissonances in the song of the stars.
Well, I want to make it to the gym before moonset, and I haven't quite mastered tessering yet, so I'll leave you with these final bits:

Proginoskes - "Perhaps you could meet me early tomorrow morning, and we can compare our night thoughts." lollolololololz.

Mrs. Murry, to Charles Wallace:"You are not going back out tonight to find if the snake, magnificent though she be, likes cocoa. Save your experimental zeal for daylight."

Save your experimental zeal for daylight, folks, and let me know if you come across any exultations of larks, or cinnamon toast, or destructions of wild cats. (or extraterrestrials!)