Friday, July 18, 2014

the semantic lion

The other day my counselor, who is absolutely fantastic and a certified Yoda (if there isn't a certificate in that, there ought to be) asked me, "Do you know how courageous you are? Do you ever really think about that?" I answered no, and no, and said I'd ponder on it.

It's not that I think I'm not courageous; it's just not on my mind a lot. I don't consider myself fearful, so being courageous doesn't have the same zing for me as it might for someone who has a lot of fear to overcome. The trendy definition of courage that has been drilled into me is 'feeling the fear and doing it anyway,' but according to the dictionary a more accurate definition is 'fearlessness' so ... that fits a bit better.  

As per usual, I'm being clever with words to get around the issue. His point was really that - in his observation - I am missing some central awareness that who I am is kinda kick ass. Apparently he's of the opinion that I do things in a way that's kinda ... ballsy. At least, I think that's what he was saying, but in more counsel-ory words.

"Bold" is a word I would describe myself with before "courageous," but bold also has a slight brassy tinge to it that I don't find particularly attractive. It's right up there with being a 'broad.' I know I've got a fair degree of 'bounce-back' and my fair share of 'keeping on,' and perhaps at some point that becomes courageous. But is the blow-up clown courageous because it bounces back every time you punch it? No. That's just what it is designed to do.

Anyway, I said I'd ponder the question. And so I'm pondering. Really, what I think of when I think of courage is the Bible verse (which was read at JJ's dedication service because when you give your kids Bible names it makes the dedication service easier for the pastor, but once again I digress):

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

Thursday, July 17, 2014

100 truths

As you may have noticed, I have been SUPER uninspired of late in the online writing world. I've even stopped reviewing the books I've been reading, though I feel as though there's a shift in the offing, and things are about to burst open. I look forward to that like a cooling summer rain of the torrential, soak you to the skin kind we used to have when I was a kid.

In the meantime, I saw this today and thought it looked like good fun, and maybe a conversation/thought starter:

100 Truths (as of 5:00 pm Thursday, July 17):

1. Last beverage → water - we're staring off pretty dull here
2. Last phone call → my dentist's office - oh wow, even better!
3. Last text message → I'll keep you posted
4. Last song you listened to → Weird Al's Word Crimes (which no fewer than 6 people on Twitter and/or Facebook said made them think of me
5. Last time you cried → July 5

6. Dated someone twice → Yes
7. Been cheated on? → Not that I know of
8. Kissed someone & regretted it? → Oh yes
9. Lost someone special? → Yes
10. Been depressed?→ Only the majority of my adulthood ;-)  
11. Been wasted? → Yes

12. Periwinkle
13. Teal
14. Aqua

15. Made new friends → Yes. YAY!
16. Fallen out of love → Intermittently
17. Laughed until you cried → Yep
18. Met someone who changed you → You bet
19. Found out who your true friends were → Maybe not so much this year, we've crossed that bridge already
20. Found out someone was talking about you → Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
21. Kissed anyone on your top friends list? → Well, my BF is on my Top Friends list, or he would be if that still existed.

23. How many kids do you want to have → Just the two I already raised
24. Do you have any pets → A bunny & a cat (who technically isn't mine but lives with us and I feed him)
25. Do you want to change your name → Nope! I love my name
26. What did you do for your last birthday → Road trip?
27. What time did you wake up today → 7:30, then 7:39, then 7:46, then finally 7:58
28. What were you doing at midnight last night → Snoring
29. Name something you CANNOT wait for → August 1
30. Last time you saw your father → July 7 :)
31. What is one thing you wish you could change about your life → To be kinder to myself
32. What are you listening to right now → Co-workers yammering
33. Have you ever talked to a person named Tom → Only when he talks to me first ;-)
34. What's getting on your nerves right now? → See #32

36. Whats your real name → Shannon
37. Relationship Status → Living in Sin
38. Zodiac sign → Aquarius
39. Male or female → Female
40. Elementary → Don Titus
41. Middle School → Didn't exist in my era or in my wee little town
42. High school → Chetwynd Secondary
43. Hair color → Intermittently blonde
44. Long or short → Long
45. Height → 5'10"
46. Do you have a crush on someone?→ Yes
47. What do you like about yourself? → I keep on
48. Piercings → Just my ears
49. Tattoos → Not yet
50. Righty or lefty → LEFTY WOOT!!

51. First surgery → Cesarean section to have Josh
52. First piercing → My ears at 16
53. First tattoo → I'm sure I'll let you know if that happens
54. First best friend → Shannon - 43 years & counting :)
55. First sport you joined → Basketball
56. First pet → Tigger, the Cat
57. First vacation → First big trip as a kid, across Canada.
58. First concert → Michael W. Smith. Seriously
59. First crush → Dale Swanton. There may have been earlier, but that's as far back as I can remember.
60. First alcohol drink → Old Style Pilsner dregs at a BBQ. I was 5, and still hate the smell/taste of beer.

61. Eating → Not yet, but soon
62. Drinking → I've run dry! EEK!
63. I'm about to → Go to a fun sale, meet up with a girlfriend, go for drinks/food/listen to music
64. Listening to → The hum of my office computer
65. Waiting for → The World to Change

66. Want kids? → Maybe grandkids in 7-10 years
67. Want to get married?→ Nope. Fool me once ... ;-)
68. Careers in mind? → Not careers so much as paid experiences

69. Lips or eyes → Lips
70. Hugs or kisses → Hugs
71. Shorter or taller → Butt
72. Older or Younger → It varies from person to person
73. Romantic or spontaneous → Spontaneity is romantic
74. Nice stomach or nice arms → Arms
75. Tattoos or piercings→ Tattoos
76. Sensitive or loud → Sensitive
77. Hook-up or relationship → Relationship
78. Trouble maker or hesitant→ Ugh. Can't he be bold and NOT a brat?

79. Kissed a stranger → Yes
80. Drank hard liquor → Yes
81. Lost glasses/contact→ No
82. Sex on first date → *blush*
83. Broken someone's heart → Yes
84. Had your own heart broken → Yes
85. Been arrested? → Nope
86. Turned someone down → Oh yes
87. Cried when someone died → Yep
88. Liked a friend that is a girl? → Nope

89. Yourself → On good days
90. Miracles → For sure
91. Love at first sight → It's a nice idea, but ... I need a little something more to go on
92. Heaven → Yes
93. Santa Claus → Never did
94. Kissing on the first date? → Yep
95. Angels → Yes

96. Is there one person you want to be with right now? → Yep
97. Had more than one boyfriend/girlfriend at one time? → Define boyfriend
98. Do you believe its possible to remain faithful forever? → Yes
99. What's the one thing you cannot live without? → Language

100. Posting this as 100 Truths?→ Yes.

Huh. I thought that would be more fun than it was. Guess I'll go back to killing time with BuzzFeed quizzes.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

the yonahlossee riding camp for girls: a book club review

Some seductions - sometimes the best ones - begin slowly. They build with a smile. A laugh. A caress on the cheek. The passion builds, takes on a life of its own. And the next thing you know ... you can't struggle to recall the person's name. They cross your Facebook timeline and you pause, questioning if you even remember correctly that you ever felt anything more than that they exist. While I was reading Anton DiScalafani's lovely novel The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls I was enraptured. It started casually enough, even a bit predictably, gained speed and yearning. And then it was over and I can't really remember the details. 

Which is not to say it wasn't a good book. There are luminous moments in Yonahlossee. Lovely scenes, a compelling and complex heroine, thought-provoking plot lines and themes. But I can't really tell you many details. It continues for a chapter or two past the natural ending. Some stories are wrapped up that I really didn't care about while other story lines are dropped prematurely. 

And yet, I'd read it again. Mostly on the strengths of writing like this: 
  • . . . luck changes all the time. God grants happiness only to those who seek it.
  • If Yonahlossee had taught me anything, it had taught me that it was impossible not to care, not to marvel at the mystery of girls' affections, which were hard won and easily lost.
  • My parents had sent me away because they saw I was a girl who wanted too much, wanted badly, inappropriately. 'Woe be to you for wanting too much.'
  • I was a girl, I learned, who got what she wanted, but not without sadness, not without cutting a swath of destruction ... 
The themes of wanting, of female friendships, of self knowledge and acceptance, and of luck (and perhaps how luck is influenced by class and beauty) are all themes that capture my attention. I wanted more. 

And that, I suppose, is the lesson. I wanted more. And we we've already read: "woe be to you for wanting too much."

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Day changes, hostess changes, location changes, but where there's a will there's a book club dinner. There are times when nothing will do but to order in some Thai food, crack open a Syrah, and chat.

We were a small group tonight, which is sometimes preferable when one or two or five of us have a lot to share.

Quiet. Intimate. Honest. There was very little book talk this evening, but I don't think anyone minded. We'd all had similar experiences of the book and had more compelling things to talk about.

Unfortunately, Erin L wasn't there tonight, but we're sure she's reading on the beach in Hawaii.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

the weird sisters: a review

Freckles gave me this book a birthday or two ago with a bit of a smirk - the tag line on the cover says "See, we love each other.  We just don't like each other very much." and that was just familiar enough to inspire a bit of sheepish laughter in both of us. The truth is, we like each other quite a bit more than the sisters in The Weird Sisters, a novel by Eleanor Brown, but still ... sisters. 

In my life, my sister relationships have been some of the most challenging and rewarding. We are not always friends, but that doesn't matter as we are ALWAYS sisters. Again and again my sisters have proven they have my back against all-comers and when things truly go sideways, they are there. As the youngest of three sisters, I have always identified with the daughters of King Lear, but meeting the incarnations of Cordelia (King Lear), Rosalinde (As You Like It) and Bianca (The Taming of the Shrew) in The Weird Sisters (MacBeth) took the sister trio trope, married it to love of Shakespeare (AND THE RIVERSIDE SHAKESPEARE NO LESS!) and my mind was blown. Or, at least, my imagination was tickled.

I loved reading this story. It does not have a lot of surprises, and - to be honest - it may be that the sister/Shakespeare combo punch made me blind to flaws in the story. Miss St. Lovely also read it and found it draggy and dull. But I LOVED IT. It definitely had a slow burn - it was a book you sunk into like spoon in marshmallow fluff. There's not a whole lot of plot, but there's more than enough sibling tension to knot my stomach. And who doesn't love a dad who speaks almost fully in Shakespearean quotes. In real life that would be freaking annoying, but he makes a fun character. 

Amazon Associate Link
One 'character' that particularly made me smile was the father's beloved edition of the Riverside Shakespeare. For the uninitiated, the Riverside is a comprehensively annotated complete works of Shakespeare that places each piece in its historical, cultural, and literary context. It is one of the first texts I was required to purchase when I returned to university, was by far the most expensive (in a degree built on Penguin Classic paperbacks) and remains one of my favourite prized tomes. Sometimes I take it out just to feel its heft. More often I refer to it as a pseudo-encyclopedia if BB2 and I are discussing pre-Modern literarature or the Renaissance (and yes, that happens. #GeekMomPride). In a house fire, I would grab my photo albums, my Bible, and my Riverside Shakespeare.

As I write this review I wonder just how much my particular persona (baby sister book geek) coloured my reading of The Weird Sisters. Does it really matter though? It was a sweet story well told and reading it affirmed my experiences for me. What more do you want from a book?

clan of the cave bears: a review

If I wasn't such a stickler for consistency I would have titled this post 'a dying breed.' Of course I am referring to the cave dwellers in Jean M. Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear, but I'm also referring to so much more. I first read this book when I was 14 or 15. It's supposedly become a classic. I'm not sure why. 

I remember being thrilled when I read this book the first time, though I'm guessing now that the thrill was all in the sneaking. I doubt I ever asked permission to read it, but given that it wasn't available in the school library and I'd heard it had some frank sex in it, I was pretty sure it was high on the 'garbage in, garbage out' scale my parents used to persuade us to make edifying choices. It's likely the only book I ever smuggled around like contraband. I don't think my parents ever banned a book I wanted to read, but I'm pretty sure if I had actually asked I would have heard was that it was my choice but ... "GIGO." My updated standard is 'good writers read good writing.' It still doesn't qualify.

For those who don't already know, The Clan of the Cave Bear is set in some fairly undefined mid-world land between an inland sea and a mountain range. I suppose someone with more interest and more knowledge of geography would be able to place it somewhere in Asia Minor. The titular 'Clan' are Neanderthals, or something like that, and the female protagonist Ayla is from a newer human group called 'Others' (shades of colonization litter the book). Most interpretations suggest she's Cro Magnon, but I've never seen pictures of a blue-eyed blonde Cro Magnon. I'm no anthropologist though and if labels were important, the author likely would have used them. The story opens with an earthquake that displaces 5 year old Ayla, she's rescued by the cave people's medicine woman, is adopted into the small clan, learns to gather, heal, hunt, subsis and survive and grows up being 'Other' with all the pain and loneliness and opportunity that entails.  

There are some really interesting details that are believably presented as a possible reality of how things were back in the day - a variety of animals that we no longer know, a way of life our trendy hipster 'paleo' eating friends can't even imagine. Auel does a great job of creating that world. A world in which other species have already been lost, are continually being lost, and in which a way of life and a life view are constantly under silent threat. Extinction is a theme, not so much as a result of proto-human activity but as a result of geologic change. It's still interesting though to read about moose 18 feet tall and beavers the size of modern hogs. The book reads as though it's well researched, although unlike modern authors Auel doesn't bother with a comprehensive acknowledgement section to let us know about that research. 

As in the days of yore when I wielded my imaginary power in a classroom, I have to pause here for a digression:

The portrayal of sex in the book made me queasy. I love a good sex scene, but these were not good sex scenes. What titillated my adolescent self repulsed me as an adult. I'm sure that Auel isn't far off in her presentation of sex among the Neanderthals being as free and natural as taking care of any of their other physical needs. That's not the problem. There is only one scene in the book that is clearly written to be read as a sexual assault, but almost the entire representation of sex in the story is repugnant to me. Women's lack of agency doesn't mean it's not rape. Yes, the Clan women can try to entice men; they are taught by their mothers what subtle movements, looks and gestures encourage a man's physical attention, but they can't ask for what they want any more than they can say no when any male - mate or otherwise - makes the gesture to 'assume the position' and 'relieves his needs.' That may be accurate, but presenting it as though the women enjoyed it as a stretch. If sex was as natural as any other need, why would women be denied access to their own pleasure? They were free to eat, defecate, rest. If sex is 'natural' isn't it natural for all? Even in 1980, when the book was published, this should have been problematic. Free sexual expression as natural as breathing or eating is probably appropriate to the story & healthier than some of our repressive practices. A man gesturing at any woman and her unflinching assuming of the position- that's cultural, not natural. That's a breed worth dying out, worth killing off, that breed that thinks a woman's duty is to please a man. And please, let's not pretend they're gone.

But this isn't an anti-rape culture diatribe, it's a book review.

I can't really say I enjoyed re-reading this book. Auel's writing style is over-wraught and stilted. She tries too hard to say too much and suffers from thesaurusitis when she isn't being repetitive. It's just not good writing. It is, however, good story telling if you can get past the first 100 pages. The first third of the book took me almost two weeks to read; the remainder took three days. At some point, the story gained momentum, the character became ones I could give a damn about, and I found myself reading whenever & wherever I could. Whether this had anything to do with my coinciding stomach flu or not, I can't really say. Seems likely though. 

I suppose I begrudgingly recommend this book, not because it's amazing but because it's one of those cultural references people make that it's worth being familiar with (one could say the same thing about Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and I couldn't get ten pages into it). The descriptions of flora and fauna in the prehistoric era are interesting, as are the theories of why Neanderthals died out. If that's your interest though, I'm sure there are great anthropological tomes that would be more satisfying.  

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