Saturday, February 13, 2010

Courage of Conviction

Courage from the word couer (Fr. heart)
Conviction from the word convictio (L. proof of guilt)
            (Com = with, together) + (vinceur = to conquer, find guilty)
            Also associated with convicted and convince
Someone I thought I knew posted something that had me pondering how our hearts are often touched by an issue and we can choose to respond in a variety of ways.  On one end of the spectrum are the people who simply ignore the truths as set before them.  On the other end are those who sacrifice everything to right a perceived wrong.  Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, neither choosing to ignore the truth while not quite prepared to sacrifice everything for the cause. 

This topic recently came up with Rob and me, with his praising me for having a conscience.  I thought his praise a bit undeserving; I can list many ways in which I compromise. Certainly, in this way I am the epitome of willing flesh but weak spirit.  I can list a number of things I don’t do “on principle” and yet a still longer list of things I ought to do but make excuses for not doing.  Furthermore, I can rationalize that some of my excuses are actually reasons but the truth is if I were truly committed to the idea then I would do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Or maybe not.  I mean, there are those people who are—whether genetically, through nurturing, or a combination of the two—predestined to live lives of willing sacrifice.  The reason such heroes as Mother Theresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi stand out is because, unlike the rest of us, they willingly lay down their life for something in which they believed.  Two of these examples were even assassinated for doing what they believed in doing and even to this day there are Catholic nuns serving in other countries who are raped and murdered simply for trying to make other people’s lives easier and better.

The courage of conviction takes heart. 

In pondering this dilemma, looking closely at my own hypocrisy in standing up for a cause, I realize that a part of the problem is having to dig deep enough to know what matters to me, to know myself well enough to know what I can and will sacrifice.  Am I willing to risk my children’s lives for something I believe in?  Dr. King was willing to do this although he hoped it wouldn’t come to that and, thankfully, it never did.  Am I willing to give up the idea of children altogether?  Okay, a little too late for that one but Mother Theresa made that decision for herself.  Am I willing to put my personal life on permanent hiatus as Ghandi did? 

The answer to all of these rhetorical questions is “No,” obviously.  I simply am not convicted enough by any issue to lay it all on the line. 

I consider the possibilities.  Do I lack the faith, the belief, that what I do can and will make a difference?  What can one small person do in the face of so much injustice?  We all know that it is not one small person nor even one great person that will make a difference.  Any of the above examples, had they worked alone, would have gone unnoticed and history would not remark upon the changes they created in their societies.  Instead, they had others, working alongside, supporting and encouraging them every step of the way.  And yes, obviously, there were detractors, perhaps well-meaning friends and family saying they shouldn’t or mustn’t or even saying they were crazy to even bother.

So when I consider my small part as merely these meager efforts then it becomes easy, in the face of all that I would like to see changed, to despair.  However, when I consider that I am taking one small step alongside tens or hundred or thousands or (dare I dream?) even millions, then my one small step feels like a gigantic leap of faith.  

Say Hello to Snow

Every now and again, it snows in Georgia and yesterday was our now to have some snow.  By the time it stopped falling, the ground was covered with the stuff.  Powdery, soft, and white.  It won't last.  Today it will be too warm for the snow to stick around.  But it's there now.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Randomness

It is remarkable how many things this article gets wrong.  Reiki is not Tibetan.  I also don’t think that “massage” is an appropriate term to use with Reiki since it is not necessarily a hands-on treatment.  Unless of course, you have detachable hands because otherwise how would Reiki “massage” work? 

Here is a list of questions that make for an interesting journaling exercise.  The author on another website suggested responding to each question with at least 10 answers, even as many as 25.  I haven’t tried it myself yet but I thought I’d pass this along:

An interesting article addressing the plethora of pro-ana and pro-mia websites and how social networking is reinforcing unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns.

An article from Psychology Today about journaling and how to create a writing ritual.

This interview about finding a writing group is interesting.  I’ve had some horrible experiences in the past and I have been trying to break through but the recent hacker incident has pushed me back into hiding from the internet.  Oh well.

This website suggests ways of healing from trauma with an emphasis on survival physical abuse.  Writing and yoga are recommended as ways to nurture ones self. 

Great blog all about writing.  She covers a very broad range of issues, from agents to inspiration to publishing. 

Some poetry postcards to print and share, for those of you (us) who never outgrew giving little valentines to everyone in the class and want to be all grown up but still have fun.

And just for the fun of it, poetry paired with suggestions of wine and dessert, to add a layer of loveliness to your romantic night.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Open Letter to Quiet Light by Francesca Lia Block

Open Letter to Quiet Light by Francesca Lia Block is a collection of poems thematically telling the story of a relationship from its beginning to its end.  Block has several other collections of poetry and stories, many young adult books, and although her stories are now written for an older audience, I found this collection the least satisfying of all of her works.  To be honest, I am struggling to determine what it is, why it is, this book didn’t resonate for me or excite me as so many of her other books have done.

One, I am currently revising a poetry/prose collection of my own that, like Block’s, tells a love story.  Is my disdain for this one rooted in envy because she got there first?  I don’t think so; my story is about a relationship but the details are different enough, as well as the style of poetry itself, to suggest common ground but not commonality. 

Two, did I find her vulnerability discomfiting?  I frankly found myself alarmed, knowing that her readership remains mostly young adult, to read this forty-four year old woman describing a relationship that sounded so adolescent.  He is a skater boy, with the emphasis on the word “boy” even though he is apparently in his early 40s who feeds into all of her insecurities, keeps their relationship a secret at first, but, hey!, the sex is great and does it really matter how he treats her when he is so wounded and needs emotional healing as much as she?  Talk about setting young readers up to idealize a relationship instead of seeing it for what it is.  That the whole thing unravels in the end is no surprise and the catalytic event that precedes the inevitable is also not a surprise. 

I shudder to think that women never outgrow accepting immature behavior from men in hopes of making themselves and the men better.  I shudder to think that young girls will think it’s okay for a guy to not follow through on his promises, flirt with other women, and even feed their insecurities because of a woman of Block’s talent, maturity, and inner beauty permits this sort of thing then surely it must be okay. 

Ironically, most of Block’s books are a celebration of the feminine, girl power treatises, and this collection makes women seem so weak, so lost, and so unaware—unaware of how beautiful we are, how beautifully we ought to be treated, and how our hearts, compassion, and innate ability to nurture are a blessing that makes everything we touch more beautiful.

Where has Francesca Lia Block gone?  She lost herself in a man who didn’t deserve her and nowhere in this book does she truly celebrate that goddess self that she usually elevates.  I am sad to see my idol so fallen, especially since she has inspired me to explore a story I would have otherwise thought was impossible to write.  She has a novel and a non-fiction book out I have not yet read—the non-fiction book is a dating guide.  After reading this poetry collection, I’m not sure she is the one from whom I would want to take advice.  If only Weetzie Bat had written one—now that’s a dating guide I would want to follow!

Here is a poem from the collection that I think shows a lovely vulnerability but also highlights some of what I find disturbing about his collection:

Edit: Although fair use copyright laws allow people to use a certain percentage of content from poetry collections, apparently the publisher has asked me to remove the one poem I used from this collection.  Readers who have followed my blog know that I typically share one poem and this is the first time I have been asked to remove a poem.  I guess if I had liked the book more maybe this request would not have been made.  Oh well.  

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel

The Red Leather Diary:  Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Diary by Lily Koppel is the remarkable story about Koppel found a young girl’s diary in a dumpster.  Most of the book is a collection of the entries with bare bones descriptions that contextualize the entries in a time and place, re-imagining the diarist’s life.  Scattered throughout the book are pictures of the young girl, Florence Wolfson, and the people in her life—family, friends, and lovers both male and female.  When Koppel finds and reads the diary, she is eventually inspired to try to find the girl who wrote about Manhattan in the 30s.  Five years of her brief entries describe a young girl who was exposed to culture in a variety of forms, who appreciated art, music, and literature, and who had dreams of being different from societal and familial expectations.

Most remarkable of all is how Koppel manages to take this compelling premise and make it so utterly banal.  I am not sure where to lay the blame for this.  Koppel’s writing style is heavily journalistic, devoid of any genuine emotion and sticking very closely to the facts which she unfortunately doesn’t always get quite right.  (Misquoting a banner to read “soothe the savage beast” when one would assume that a Harvard banner would get the quote correct as “savage breast” and silver-plating the Horn and Hardart Automat coffee dispensers even though they were nickel, etc.) 

One might blame the primary source.  After all, how interesting can the writings of a pampered socialite be even when put within the context of New York City during the depression?  And was Wolfson really a socialite or merely a wannabe, pushed by a social climbing mother who doesn’t mind her daughter’s dallying with a married man but whose dreams for her daughter don’t include Florence’s choice to elope and marry a newly graduated dentist. 

That the entries are only a few lines long would force Koppel to flesh out the story beyond truth but by sticking to merely the facts, the entire book reads like a tedious article or dry history text.  How is this even possible?  Florence goes to the theater, encounters poets and artists, is herself enamored with lesbians and sexually alive but all of this passion is simply lost along the way.  I suppose that I should commend Koppel for retaining the integrity of trying to remain close to the facts and even when she tries to create some emotional connection it is disheartening to find her once again getting it wrong, describing how she and Florence both enjoyed the Metropolitan Museum of Art by describing how she, Koppel, is sitting in the Chinese Garden, a section of the museum that was not created until decades after Wolfson’s adolescence.  (The garden was not opened to the public until 1981.)

If you like what you read to be dispassionate with an emphasis on facts, even if the facts aren’t always quite right, then this book is fine.  If you think that the writing of another adolescent girl is too deep to be true then you might find Florence’s banal entries more realistic.  If you hoped to get any insight into

  • society in Manhattan during the socialist movements that preceded World War II or
  • the second generation immigrant experience during the depression or
  • sexual identity in one post-Jazz age flapper girl’s life
you won’t find any of that here.  This book isn’t about insight or emotion or anything but just the facts and the fact is the story is boring.  And repetitive.  By the time I had read for the fourth time that Rebecca Woflson, Florence's mother, owned a shop called Rebecca Wolfson's Gowns on Madison Avenue, I was prepared to throw the book across the room.  Luckily, it was a library book so I treated it with more respect than its redundancy deserved.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Chodelos de Laclos

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Chodelos de Laclos is the novel that inspired many film versions starring everyone from Glenn Close to Annette Benning to Sarah Michelle Geller.  The novel tells the salacious story of French aristocrats who seduce and manipulate others for their own amusement.  This epistolary novel is divided into four parts and the first two parts soar with sharp wit, the humor of which I never saw evidenced in any of the films.  In fact, the wicked humor of the novel had obviously been dropped altogether when being translated to film. 

Then comes the third part.  All pretense of delightful humor begins to fade in the face of what is actually happening, especially to the young Cécile.  Her seduction on film is watered down completely and the event in the novel is far more distressing.  By part four, the novel’s judgment on the evil machinations of the two aristocrats come to light and their inevitable fall offers all the satisfaction one finds in any self-righteous conclusion.  The women, of course, suffer the most for the wrongs they have done while at least two of the men not only pass through the fire unscathed but actually reinstated to full social status.

I suppose I expected no less, given the era in which the novel was published.  Still, how surprising and delightful it might have been had this novel been written at a time when such punishment did not have to be meted out and the biting humor of the first half could have been retained from beginning to end.  In that respect, at least one of the movies actually does a better job of things one could have hoped.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Shifting Line by Chelsea Rathburn

The Shifting Line by Chelsea Rathburn is a lovely and elegant poetry collection in which the intimate is made universal and the profound personal.  Rathburn creates neo-formalist poetry which is remarkable for its ability to use end rhyme patterns without falling into a sing-song rhythm.  The poems read with the natural flow of a casual conversation.  In the hands of a less ambitious poet, a free verse poem would read with the same ease, possibly using internal rhymes, but would never rise to the purity of Rathburn’s commitment to her chosen form. 

Although some poems fall flat for me, the ones that sparkle brightest are the ones that seem to be the most personal, that resonate for me the way that Linda Pastan’s poetry does.  Over all, I enjoyed the collection and I honestly suspect that when I revisit it, as a surely shall because I am making it a part of my permanent library, the pieces that didn’t click for me this time will take on a new and surprising luster next time.  With good poetry, this is often how these things work.

Unused Lines

While words we pamper and protect
march off in search of meager fame,
these lines like bastard kids collect,
skulking through our notes in shame,

the discards of our intellect,
false starts, limp rhymes, feet bruised and lame,
condemned to suffer in neglect,
half-breeds that we refuse to name

for fear they’ll prove that we suspect:
the damned and saved are much the same.