Wednesday, November 15, 2017

a brief history of seven killings: a midview

I was so excited to get my hands on A Brief History of Seven Killings. It is set in Kingston, a city I loved while I was in it and have greatly idealised since leaving. In fact, much of it is set in "my" neighbourhood - I can feel the heat, smell the piss and flowers, see "the Singer's" house (just two blocks from my old apartment) and hear the non-stop honking of the non-stop traffic. Half-Way Tree and Camp Road and Hope Road and the causeway to Port Royal are all a part of my happy memories of Kingston. Given all of that, and my reader-crush on Marlon James, and my former obsession with Booker Prize winners (since the rule changes I've lost interest), one could assume that my excitement was high - and as I've already said, it was.

Marlon James' writing is the kind you deep dive into and it swallows you whole in a humid, multi-sensory atmosphere, not unlike Kingston itself. I have devoured approximately 2/3 of the book in large bites. It has been a solace to again be surrounded in the poetry of patwa (spelling chiefs, don't correct that - Jamaican patois is patwa), and to be transported to the sweet memories of time and place. Yet, I'm not sure that I can finish this book.

There are two problems: a 704 page "brief" recounting of seven actual  (novelized and speculative, but entrenched in fact) killings set in the most violent era of post-slavery Jamaica's history is in fact overwhelmingly vicious. As I've mention just recently, my brain - in particular my dreamscape - is easily influenced by what I read and watch, and it's important to the maintenance of my mental health that I not toss and turn and dream of hanged men and corrupt police and the most imaginative forms of violence and torture, particularly when I know that much of this is not James' imagination but how life was in Kingston at the time (and still is for some). That's the most pressing issue.

The second problem I'm finding is that there is not a single character in this book, 400+ pages in, that I care about. I love a velvet-rich atmosphere, a compelling story, and - always - brilliant word play. I like the changing points of view in the novel, and the disruption of the simplest good versus evil narrative. But I just don't care about any of these people. I need someone to like. It's not sad for me when these characters are killed off, and it should be. I want to feel that loss. It shouldn't be that the most interesting part of a story for me is looking for things I can recognize and remember. 

I suppose I'll probably finish the book. I just wanted to share my thoughts in the meantime. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

sometimes memory lane is haunted (or, why was i such a scaredy cat?)

I spent several happy hours this week completing a charming puzzle Shiney sent me. Sending each other puzzles has become our 'thing' in the last few years, although the backstory is best told offline and in forgiving company. The spark wasn't our most politically correct moment, but now ... sending puzzles is our thing. 

I don't actually remember Shiney and I doing puzzles together when we were little neighbour girls. I had a Pink Panther puzzle that I loved and did over and over again (oh, the adult luxury of the one-off puzzle!), and I imagine we must have done it together at some point, but I don't have any specific memory of it.

No,  40 years ago reading horse stories and then Hardy Boy mysteries on our long school bus ride was more our thing, along with sneaking around in the forest that surrounded our homes and traipsing after her big brother and his friend. I may, in fact, have squealed this summer to find a jigsaw puzzle comprised of Hardy Boy mysteries covers - it was the perfect golden thread between then and now. Of course I had to send it to Shiney, and she, in return, sent me this puzzle of children's book covers. 

As I was piecing this puzzle this week I was at first charmed to see all my favourite friends, particularly beloved Winnie-the-Pooh. Free-spirited Pippi Longstocking is there as well, reminding me of the year I dressed as her for Halloween and the way those fake, red, sticking-out braids built on a wire coat hanger dug into my head. Sweet, gentle Ferdinand smelling the flowers in his field no matter how much people wanted him to be ferocious always seemed a friend, and now reminds me of a certain son of mine. And there's Madeline - the littlest of all - in her confusing and rhyming French context, and always naughty Peter Rabbit who fed my love of lagomorphs. There are several books here I've never heard of, and I few I'm familiar with but have no emotional connection to, but I was surprised to see how many I remember with a bit of a cringe. 

It's no secret that I was prone to nightmares as a child. In fact, I still am. The only reason I started watching Game of Thrones on TV in 2011 was that I had a giant squishy protector to keep me safe in the dark. Otherwise, I don't watch fantasy, horror, or thriller TV or movies. I've mostly equated it to having too vivid an imagination combined with a belief in both a just and loving God and evil supernatural powers. 

What's odd, though, as I remember being super creeped out by something as ludicrous as the Run-Away Pancake (mind you, don't come between me and brunch) or finding something sinister about the Cat in the Hat, is trying to figure out why I would have been such an easily frightened child. My parents were both present and loving. I shared a room with generally tolerant Freckles, and while she wouldn't have consoled me much of the time at least I wasn't alone. We had a secure home, lots of friends, and loving connections with our extended family. Parental Guidance was an actual approach to parenting, not just a movie rating. I had a fairly simple and genuinely happy childhood.

And yet I had recurrent terrors in the night that sometimes left me unable to go to school the next day, and I dreaded the sounds of cars on the gravel road in our housing compound because I knew they would cast lights upon the wall that I knew weren't ghosts yet would inevitably interpret as such. Things that were supposed to be a treat - like watching the Wizard of Oz in our school library - sent me crying from the room and hiding under a desk until my mom could come to town to pick me up. 

Aside from the nightmares, which I mostly know how to avoid, I don't consider myself a fearful adult. I do have a bat phobia, but since I don't live in bat-infested territory I rarely have to confront that. I genuinely love adventure, seeing new places, and trying new things. And I like people - I am equally comfortable at a cocktail party with the Premier or talking to a room full of people experiencing homelessness. I have no problem wandering in the city or in nature on my own, and Jamaica taught me that I like jumping from (relative) heights into water. There's a kind of fear/anticipation that I really enjoy. So why did I spend so much of my childhood quivering?

Honestly, maybe I didn't. Maybe it only seems like that because I'm focused on those memories right now, instead of on 4x4ing in the foothills of the Rockies, and learning to shoot a gun, and tubing in frigid river waters, and exploring our wild "neighbourhood." And maybe fear of physical things is less real for me than psychological fear. I don't have any deep insights, it was just something that occupied my thoughts this quiet week as I meditated on the puzzle shapes. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

just say no to prompts

For today's prompt I was going to choose "top 5 pet peeves," but the fact is that I am often a seething ball of peevishness (especially when I'm driving), it's all too easy to bitch about it online, and frankly I'm a little exhausted with my own whining. Instead, I thought I'd post about my top 5 non-human unpeeves ... or whatever the opposite of a peeve is.

Who WOULDN'T be cheered up by that face? 
1. Mammals - I adore almost all mammals, though I will say that bunnies, dogs and cats top the list. I can get pretty darn excited about moose, cattle, and marine mammals too (although bats can suck it and really shouldn't be mammals at all). Domestic mammals are cute or loving or entertaining as they choose. Bunnies are also super low maintenance, as long as you don't mind a few escape poo pellets and making sure your power cables are out of reach. I'm not an unqualified animal lover, but many nights I'd be as happy to go home to a golden lab as I would a golden chardonnay.

2. Banking technology - ATMs, to begin with, but also online banking, depositing cheques with your smart phone, automatic deposits and automatic bill payments. I can't even imagine all the time we used to waste in bank line-ups and filling out those ridiculous forms and arranging to be at a bank between 9 am and 3 pm to access our own money. Not all technology makes life easier, but banking technology ... that stuff is my jam.

3. Farmer's markets - I love that somebody took the time to carefully grown that gorgeous bunch of carrots or to make that glistening jar of jam from blackberries in their back 40. I am not going to go risk life and limb to pick blackberries, and I am certainly not going to clean, measure, mix, boil and jar mountains of the deadly bastards. But I will eat the heck out of that deep purple goodness. And throw me that pretty mixed posy of flowers while you're at it.

4. Air travel - It doesn't matter if I'm going on a month-long vacation to an exciting new destination or taking a domestic flight for work. I love air travel. I love the small annoyances of check-in and never quite getting the seats I want. I love the feeling of superiority when someone ahead of me at security doesn't know what the hell they're doing*. I love peering out the window as we lift off and I pray for clear skies to see the land below as we journey. Air travel is miraculous. I hope I never get complacent about it.

5. Music - I know there's nothing unique about loving music, but the making of and listening to music is almost always an up for me. I miss singing. I miss my piano (which is currently in storage and I play it a maximum of once a year when it's not), I miss going out dancing, I miss listening to my friends and talented strangers make music live. Music is magical - I need more of it.

^NB: People who don't know what they are doing at airport security are a pet peeve. It's only the feeling of superiority I enjoy. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

a letter to my ex

When I first read this prompt, I thought "dear lord, which one?" When I speak of exes I generally mean one of two people - my ex-husband or my most recent ex. Those conversations are either the mummified remains of an ancient thank you for the two best gifts I've received or too soon. 

Only one other "ex" is someone I still refer to - often here, in glimpsing and side-long ways - but never by that moniker. His former status is subsumed in his current roles as my Jiminy Cricket, my confidante, my champion. He is the voice I call to mind when I forget who I am. He taught me what it looks like when love waits its turn; then when I was ready he taught me what it is to love freely, passionately, and compassionately. He taught me the joy of sex.  He taught me the joy of "you never know." He taught me that you can be fully for someone without owning that someone. There is nothing to write to him, because there is nothing I need to say to him that I haven't already said. The space between us is vast, but clean, and crossable in a heartbeat. He is in his own category that cannot be contained in a prefix.  

There are, of course, other kinds of exes. Ex-bosses, as Shiney pointed out, though that gets problematic in its own right. I've had many bosses who taught, lead, believed, coached, cajoled, trusted, and helped me to grow. They know who they are, they know what they did, and they are still in my life. The one who isn't, well, I don't think he could understand or care about anything I have to say, just as anything but an unqualified "sorry" from him is of no interest to me. 

So, this prompt has done its job in that this post now exists. But a letter to my ex? Why? The ones who need it will never see it, and the ones who will see it know all there is to say. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

5 ways to win my heart

My dearly beloved bestie is doing a blog challenge right now and since I have been feeling desperately disconnected from her, and haven't written regularly in forever, and have the worst case of chronic FOMO in a way that only a youngest child can have it, I thought I'd join in. Of course, as has been the case for 46 years, I'm running a little behind her. Here's my day 1.

5 Ways to Win My Heart:
1. Listen - listen for what I mean to say however inelegantly or haltingly I say it. Listen with your whole heart. Listen like my words are water on your parched soul. Listen like my life depends on it - maybe it does. Listen.
2. Make my sons laugh - it's my favourite sound.
3. Take me on adventures.
4. Believe in me and my rambunctious dreams that just won't die.
5. Bacon
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