Friday, February 15, 2008

In Which It's That Time Again

Yes, it is Friday so I will be writing about puppies but first the quote of the week.

The same glass of wine can
accompany dinner, or communion.
Laura Day
The Circle: How the Power of a Single Wish Can Change Your Life

Yes, I wrote perhaps the most scathing review of my blogging experience. However, I did find a few (three) quotes and this is one that I especially liked. In context (ie. as it is read within the book itself) the meaning of this quote is different from how I am sharing it. And the comma after dinner is actually how it appears in the text. If I were using this quote in a paper I would have to insert [sic] but this is my blog and instead I can ramble about it.

Anyway, why I chose this quote today is simply the elegant notion that everything can either be profound or mundane depending not only on its context but also in how we experience everything. A sip of wine can be an opportunity to escape life in the blur of inebriation. A sip of wine can be a lovely compliment to a well prepared meal. A sip of wine can be the unifying experience of flesh with divinity. The wine itself has no meaning beyond what we give to it. When blessed, the sharing of wine is sacred.

Everything in our lives, every moment and every experience is an opportunity for sharing in something sacred. It depends on how we choose to live the moment. Every moment. Even this moment.

This is a picture of Christopher holding his webkin Snowdoll. Christopher is the generous soul who gave Snowdoll into our keeping and let us adopt her into our family. Snowdoll, I am convinced, is trying to make me a little crazy. I believe she and Romanov are in cohoots to disrupt my life as much as possible. And they are successful.

Today is a perfect example. They were running to and fro, from great room to bedroom, slip sliding through the kitchen. I had the foolish hope that maybe they would burn off enough puppy energy that I might actually be able to do my yoga this morning earlier than I have been. After Rob left for the day, I kept them moving and busy as I moved about doing laundry, cleaning up, and going from room to room with the two of them bounding together behind me.

I hear the bell. Aha! Snowdoll wants to go out. But wait! The sound of the bell is coming closer to me. As is Snowdoll who, apparently, has taken the bell from the door and is carrying it around with her. So now there is no way for her to signal she wants to go outside but that's okay. She was using it to announce she already relieved herself and now wanted to go outside and celebrate anyway. The bell being on the door for her to signal to us was not as effective as I had hoped.

Look at this face! Do you know how hard it is to be angry with this face? Very very hard. It is so funny to see the differences in the two puppies. Romanov does not kiss lightly. In fact, Rob and I have been known to torture him. He will come and tell us he needs to go outside by nudging us.

Romanov: *nudge* *nudge* *nudge*
Rob: Do you want to go outside?
Romanov: *yelp*
Rob: Give me a kiss.
Romanov: *bounds to the door and looks back*
Romanov: *realizes Daddy is not following and bounds back*
Romanov: *nudge*
Rob: Give me a kiss.
Romanov: *brings his nose close to Rob's face but does not kiss him*
Romanov: *bounces away as if he gave a kiss*
Romanov: *looks back and realizes that Daddy was not fooled*
Romanov: *bounds back and woofs*
Rob: Kiss me.

This can actually go on quite a while. Snowdoll, on the other hand, will kiss kiss kiss until a whole layer of skin has been licked off your face! In the morning she will nudge her face into mine and press her nose into my cheek. She will then lick lick lick where her nose was. This is how she kisses. Nuzzle with her nose and then lick wherever her nose went. When she is especially enthusiastic she will nibble with her tiny little very sharp puppy teeth. Nibble nibble nibble.

So Romanov kisses are few and far between and Snowdoll's kisses are enthusiastic and frequent.

Snowdoll is not the only mischief maker, however. This morning, given the high energy activity of the dogs, I was looking forward to their settling down for their morning nap. Finally, not even as early as I had hoped, Snowdoll collapsed into her turtle sleeping pose and Romanov was quietly gnawing on his bone. I hoped he would stop gnawing and finally sleep himself but no such luck.

I surrendered, figuring that it wasn't that big a deal. After all, Romanov knows that when Mommy is on the yoga mat he can lie down quietly and not worry about my wandering off into another room. I was only minutes into my routine when I heard the click click click of Romanov moving around. I peeked and Snowdoll was still collapsed but Romanov was moving around. I assumed he would just lie down under the coffee table (aka the puppy table) and watch me do my yoga as he did before Snowdoll came into our lives.

That was not in Romanov's agenda, however. Instead, he kept wandering around click click click. He sniffed Snowdoll who didn't response. Click click click. Then he did a full body shake, complete with the jingle jangle of his dog tags. Then more click click click.

Eventually the inevitable happened and Snowdoll lifted her head to figure out why Romanov wason the move. As soon as she lifted her head Romanov click click clicked his way over to where he would sigh down onto the floor. She sat up wondering why he was no lying down instead of walking around as he had been before. She noticed that Mommy was on the yoga mat which, in her mind, means it's time to get up and start playing because everyone is on the floor.

In other words, Romanov set her up because sure enough she got up and wanted to play. I, however, did not get upset with her. Why not? Well, aside from the obvious (see the picture above!) I knew that Romanov had cleverly disrupted her sleep knowing it would disrupt my yoga and I would be forced to once again play with them, take them outside, smear peanut butter into their hollow bone, etc.

Sneaky Romanov trying to get Sweet Snowdoll into trouble. I guess he doesn't know that she is quite capable of getting herself into trouble without his help. After all, Rob has had the big brown pillow for eighteen years. He graciously gave it to Romanov so that he wouldn't have to sleep on the hard wood floor. After over eighteen years of survival it took Snowdoll only one month to gut the pillow and make a tremendous mess throughout the living room while I was distracted with doing laundry and using the bathroom. I tell you, leave them alone for even a moment and they can get into all sorts of trouble no matter how innocent they may appear to be.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

In Which I Finish a Book

If you liked such books as The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or Ask and It Is Given by Jerry and Esther Hicks or Excuse Me! Your Life is Waiting by Lyn Grabhorn then you will enjoy and appreciate The Circle: How the Power of a Signl Wish Can Change Your Life by Laura Day. And that is about the best thing I can say about this book. Well, that and it is very short so I don't feel I wasted too much time reading it.

So here is my wish, my intention, my vibrational request to the Universe: Please stop everyone I love from giving these books to me. While these are obviously are a blessing to others I find them redundant, uninspiring, and tedious--at best! At worst I think they are foolish, insulting to anyone with a modicum of intelligence, and make me question the spiritual intelligence of those who praise them.

But let me tell you how I really feel . . .

There is one book that rises far above the recent crop of crap and that is Shakti Gawain's wonderful Creative Visualization which continues to put these other books to complete and utter shame.

Aries Horoscope for week of February 14, 2008
Happy Valentine Daze, Aries! After meditating about what advice would be most useful for your love life during the rest of 2008, I decided on this observation from 17th-century philosopher Sir Francis Bacon: "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." In other words, you should raise your appreciation for interesting idiosyncrasies and cute "flaws" and odd proportions. They are not inconvenient imperfections that mar the beauty you need in your life. They are the very essence of it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In Which I Finish a Book on Writing

Reading a book on writing, after a while, is like watching an episode of certain sitcoms. Jack overhears Chrissy talking to Janet and misunderstands what they are discussing. Lucy, frustrated by Ricky’s refusing to let her be in the show, enlists Ethel to help her circumvent her husband’s mandate. Ray is going to do something to make Deborah angry and he’ll run across the street to his mother’s better cooking.

Listen to Me: Writing Life into Meaning by Lynn Lauber could have so easily fallen into this category that I would have dismissed it off-hand and not recommended it. But this book is not easily discounted as a rehash of what has already been said. I cannot deny that I have seen most if not all of these writing exercises before in other books. What makes Lauber’s book worthy of praise is how she shares her own experiences as a writer, shows how her experience is revealed through her writing.

I have considered where I would place this book in my own bookshelves. Somewhere between journaling and writing for publication. Perhaps in with books on writing memoir, like Leaving a Trace by Alexandra Johnson, where people who keep journals are encouraged to think about publishing their stories.

The exercises are good. The suggestions are good. This is a good book. It’s not great. It’s not brilliant. It isn’t trying to be. It is familiar and friendly. And, for the most part, I like what it has to say. (I disagree with Lauber’s encouraging the reader to self-publish.) For the reader who has not read many (or better yet any) books on writing, for the journal writer who is beginning to think that maybe now is the time to move towards sharing what is being written, this book is a good one. If you have read several books on writing, you can probably easily skip this book and not miss out on anything. If you are a fan of Lauber’s other works (none of which I’ve read) you will probably enjoy reading more about her personal process.

(I would recommend Johnson’s book over Lauber’s but you may want to read the first few pages to determine for yourself which writer’s style you prefer.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

In Which I Finish Yet Another Book Group Book

After reading Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg I was understandably eager to read Drag King Dreams. I was somewhat disappointed in this sophomore novel which did not quite live up to the promise of Feinberg’s debut novel. I have some ideas as to why this is true but before I dig into why I didn’t like it as much I would like to look at what I did like.

The characters that people the world of the narrator/protagonist in Drag King Dreams are more fully realized. Each has hir own history and experiences and the reader eventually feels a familiarity with each one. This was not as true with Stone Butch Blues where I often found myself confused by who was who and whether one character was a femme, butch, whatever.

What I disliked most about the former novel is not as evident in this novel. Although the story begins with a murder, the story is not as melodramatic. The plot and pacing are tighter.

Over all, this is a thought provoking bit of escapism but it falls short of its greater potential of building on the clear promise of the former novel.

A minor complaint on my part is that Feinberg uses italics in an insulting manner. When using the pronomials hir and ze instead of trusting the reader to understand contextually what these words means, they are italicized with a “look at me!” obviousness. If the reader does not already know what hir and ze mean and they are not smart enough to figure it out for themselves as they read then they are not going to understand it better because the words are consistently italicized and those readers who either already know or quickly catch on are likely to find it as insulting as I did.

My next complaint is more subjective. I loved Jess, the narrator of Stone Butch Blues. I wanted to hang out with hir, get to know hir. But I did not feel any connection with Max, the narrator of Drag King Dreams. Ironically, this may be a compliment as much as it is a concern. Max is isolated, a loner, and this comes across so clearly that I, as a reader, felt no emotional connection whatsoever. I didn’t really care what happened to Max. The moments Max shares with a cousin, Heshie, especially a scene where the cousin visits Max’s apartment, were the most meaningful to me. Other characters like Ruby and Thor were more interesting and sympathetic. And this lack of sympathy kept me from immersing myself in the novel.

My largest complaint is also qualified. It felt to me as though Feinberg had an ax to grind, an agenda behind writing both of these novels but this time she wields her reason with far more aggression and far less compassion. Horrible things happen in both novels but in the former there is a more gentle overtone that actually makes the events all the more horrible. And especially as the novel sped towards its conclusion I felt that Feinberg was more interested in writing a manifesto than a novel.

And can I blame hir? More than a decade has passed from the first to the second novel and how much progress has really been made? If more and more celebrities are coming out and living more openly, that is all well and good but there are still those who are trying to change the constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. If the idea of transgendered people is more accepted and acceptable then why does my spell check not recognize the word transgendered? If bisexuality is now as much a trend as it is a sexual orientation then why are there schools created for LGBT high school students to protect them from the abuse of their peers?

So is Drag King Dreams angrier than Stone Butch Blues? Yes. With reason? Absolutely yes. Have we come a long way? Yes. Yes, but we have so much further to go before we are there and while I may not be as angry as Feinberg I do feel angry and frustrated and aggrieved. But am I as moved as I was by Stone Butch Blues? No.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

In Which I Finish A Memoir

Recusal: There is a reason why I simply won’t be able to say much bad about this book. Personal bias precludes me to want to like, no love, this book so I am stating that up front and for the record. If you don’t know why then read page 228.

I received Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum Friday which is why I didn’t do my usual Puppies themed Friday post or my weekly quote. I was going around the house trying to get everything done before I settled down and lost myself in the pages of Janice Erlbaum’s new memoir.

There is a certain challenge in writing a book like this. Occasionally a novel will give away very early on the conclusion of the story. When done well, the reader still feels compelled to read on. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell are perfect examples of how knowing the ending of a story doesn’t stop the reader from slogging through pages of text to learn how the characters got where the give-away beginning tells the reader they will eventually and inevitably be.

The same is very true of memoir. When an author writing a memoir says that they are suffer from suicidal tendencies we, as readers, already know that they did not commit suicide so we need to be drawn into the story through well written dialogue and evocative story telling.

Janice Erlbaum is a story teller. She proved this in her latest memoir, a sort of sequel to her previous memoir which was about why she ran away from home, how she ended up living in a shelter, and what happened to her after she had found a new “home” of sorts within the walls of a shelter. Have You Found Her is about her return, twenty years later, to the same crash pad shelter where she first came off the streets. This time she goes as a volunteer, helping the residents make jewelry.

Immediately the reader knows that Erlbaum is breaking one of the primary rules (don’t have any favorites) as she seeks to find her, the girl who most reminds her of herself when she was homeless and scared nearly twenty years ago. Enter Samantha whose intelligence is almost matched by her damage. The story that Sam tells of her life is enough to break anyone’s heart and Erlbaum’s heart is quickly broken.

Thankfully, at the same time that Erlbaum is being sucked into the emotional vortex of Samantha’s life she is going home to a man who loves her. Bill is that one still point in Erlbaum’s life, a rock on whom she leans and against which she occasionally pushes in spite of herself.

In essence, this is a dual love story as Erlbaum falls more deeply into commitment with Bill and falls in love with this shattered child Sam. And although the reader knows that Sam’s story cannot end well there is an emotional balance provided in the more secure and familiar grounds of Bill’s love.

What is, for me, the most remarkable about this book (and here is where I yet again back away from ever giving an objective review in my highly subjective blog) is how the story unfolds. From a tight beginning the narrative slowly unravels and Samantha’s life does. Then, as the book comes to its almost inevitable end the narrative gets tighter again. As in real life, there are threads that are dropped, forgotten along the way. Yet, as in memoir, there are themes and details that give greater meaning to the details of life. The reader doesn’t expect each and every plot line to be completed because this is not a created narrative. This is life. This is real. And this left me exhausted.

When writing her first memoir Erlbaum was looking back on events that occurred over 10 years earlier. The events of this book, Have You Found Her, are far more recent. Too recent. I don’t honestly know how Erlbaum managed to look so closely at such recently painful experiences and find the strength to no only dig deep but emerge weaving together these threads into anything this cautionary.

I could not have done it and for that alone Erlbaum deserves to be commended. She does a great job of sharing her experiences. I knew this already going into the book because I’d read some of the scenes through posts in her blog. But I did not know the full story and when I finished the book, although I was horrified by what happened, I was not completely surprised. Yes, I wanted things to end differently. This was a memoir, not a novel. In a novel things could have ended with more closure but memoirs are as brutal sometimes as is real life. And it is easy to walk away from memoirs like this feeling weighted down with questions that we feel the author should have answered. However, the questions I am left with are ones only I can answer for myself. What would I have done? How would I have felt? Would the ending of my story been different had I been the one who had tried to save Samantha?

That there are questions left so painfully unanswered is a testament to Erlbaum’s writing. According to her blog she’s already working on book three, a novel. I look forward to seeing where her imagination takes her because her life is so painful to read.