Saturday, July 24, 2010

There is a Balm in Gilead (Or: Reading)

I finished reading Marilynne Robinson's book, Gilead, and I suspect that this is another book that people will love or hate. I suspect that "well, it's the musings of a Congregationalist minister in 1950s Iowa" would not be a huge sell for most of my friends. But I loved it. It's the story of an old (76) minister who writes a letter to his young, seven-year-old son, hoping to impart some wisdom on the boy because he won't be around as he grows up. It would be easy to simplify and say that this is a book about "life lessons," but I don't want to do that. It's about life, death, forgiveness, love, grief, etc. It's about how even a simple, small town life can be a beautiful life.

Robinson's writing is amazing. I remember reading her book, Housekeeping, while we were away on vacation in Cancun. I kept thinking that it was the worst beach read ever. Not because it was a bad book, but because the prose was so packed and beautiful, it took me forever to even get through a page. She waited more than 20 years to publish her next book, and the words read like she was working them over for a long time, choosing them to be perfect.

I also love that this book keeps to the form of the letter from cover to cover. I've always been a writer/journaler/whatever, but post-Zygote, I've been even more enthralled with? committed to? this idea that she should have a written record of what kind of person I was. We really only know our parents as our parents, and not really as people. As Robinson writes,
"You can know a thing to death and be for all purposes completely ignorant of it. A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutal incomprehension."

I am Zygote's mother, and this is how she will always see me. My parents have always been my parents, and even with glimpses here and there into their lives pre-children, I have no other real frame of reference for them. Everything they do -- every triumph and every horrible mistake -- is seen through the lens of me, me, me. This is the way of the world, and I don't mind being Just Mommy, but I do like the idea of leaving behind some record of what else was swirling around in my crazy head, and some context.

I write Zygote a letter in a journal we made for her every month. I had hoped to do more, but that never came to fruition. Neither did the Baby Book that you're "supposed to" keep, recording first teeth and laughs and smiles. File under: numerous parenting failures. YG is much more visual and fills the journal sometimes with cards and ticket stubs of places we've visited and pictures. He does the same for MG.

I've often wondered if my parents have done anything similar for me. When my grandfather died, we discovered that he and my grandmother had kept all the love letters they exchanged during World War II. Even though my grandmother was still alive, she had Alzheimer's and my father and aunt said they felt uncomfortable reading them, that it would be an invasion of her privacy. I wonder if they ever did get to reading them. I wonder whatever happened to all the letters and postcards I sent my family when I was traveling. I can't imagine that they threw them away (my tendency to hoard all my old letters and cards has to come from somewhere), but where are they? In some cardboard box in a closet, waiting to be rediscovered? My mother surprised me, the first time I got married, by giving me a scrapbook that she made, pasting old photos of me, awards and terribly bad, dark poems I had written into it. My aunt also wrote me a letter that was stuffed in there. My mom and my aunt are not, by any stretch of the imagination, crafters or scrap bookers, and knowing that she had saved that stuff was a better present than any of the other crap I got.

I'm a bit rambly, and there were many other plot points that I enjoyed, but this paragraph, stuffed right in the middle of the book where you almost could miss it, sums up why I loved it so much:

"I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you."

That made me think of this quote, that both my father and grandfather, carry/carried around:

"A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank...but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child." -- Forest Witchcraft

Read this book.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Six Items or Less: Yes. No. Maybe?

The New York Times ran an article today, Shoppers on a ‘Diet’ Tame the Urge to Buy, that spoke right to me.

I've been thinking a lot about 'Fast Fashion' and I've also been thinking a lot about money. Or more specifically, how I don't have much. And what I have doesn't seem to get prioritized for the things I want (travel, stability, wine), but ends up being frittered away on more t-shirts and stacks of books I will never have the time to read or on keeping in business. As much as I'd like to go cold turkey and declare A Year Without Shopping (good book, BTW), that's just not going to work for me. I need to think of things as a fun project with goals and objectives (see also: Type A) for it to work.

I toyed with the idea of joining Kendi's 30 for 30 Challenge, but the Six Items Or Less folks are hardcore! I'm intrigued, awed, and possibly interested. I'm still mulling it over, and in case it wasn't obvious, will be blogging about whatever project I decide on. I don't make decisions without first examining exactly how I can document them. :-)

In the meantime, check out the video:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Close To My Own Heart

Check out The Globe's article, Years and Marriages Later, They Still Pay.
Biting tongue. Biting tongue.

Cory Doctorow and Me and Sometimes Stephen King

Have you discovered I Write Like? It's a statistical analysis tool that analyzes word choice and writing style and compares it with those of the famous writers. I input a bunch of blog entries, and Stephen King came up once, but Cory Doctorow came up multiple times. I'm embarrassed to say that I needed to look him up. Well, add to the list of "things to read."

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Fast Fashion (Or Other Unsustainable Things I Wish I Didn't Enjoy)

It's come to this. I'm going to have to give up my shopping habit. When you compare it to eating fast food, it seems inevitable.

What the hell am I talking about, you ask?

Naomi Wolf wrote an article, The High Cost of Cheap Fashion, about a month ago, about why exactly those clothes at Zara, Forever 21, H&M and the like are so cheap. Later, Aminatou Sow, posted two items over at Feministe, Retail: It's Complicated and More on Fast Fashion. Both are making their way around the blogosphere, and are worthwhile reads.

These bits were what jumped out at me:

"Fast Fashion — much like Fast Food — is cheap, addictive, and built on an unsustainable, low-wage system. These throwaway clothes are purposefully designed to be worn a few times and discarded, which contributes the growing problem of textile waste. According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, the average American household throws away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year so it’s not hard to imagine how the constant production of new clothing poses a number of environmental challenges, especially in developing countries. "


"Truly committing to Slow Fashion would require us to learn more about the clothes we buy and who produced them, and using that knowledge to make socially and environmentally responsible choices. "


We all know I have a problem. The No Shopping Project demonstrated this to me in a way that I knew deep down, but never fully realized. I'm having the same feelings that I did when I knew I had to give up eating so much processed, crap food. I know what the "right" thing to do is, but I don't want to give up what I like, and I am definitely the product of a culture that embraces stuff, and a culture that wants that stuff cheap and fast.

I suspect I'll be spending some time with Elizabeth Kubler Ross in the near future.