Between the Lines

Left side of Venus Kissed by Cupid, Michele Di Jacopo Tosini, 1555 Florence, after design by Michelangelo

To get through the hellscape that is life in America now, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and I know I’m not alone in this. Nonfiction can let us feel like everything isn’t completely out of control, there are extraordinary people out there to learn about, there’s historic/political precedent (even if not in this country), and fiction has always been and will always be the great escape. Let’s focus on fiction.

What constitutes escape is different for different people, and I’ve been fascinated reading comments on the web on what people are or are not able to swallow in these strange days. Some want the total escape of romance, and/or don’t want anything remotely dark, heavy, or political in front of them. That isn’t me, but it never was, so *shrug*.

I like dark, I like heavy, I like characters who feel realer than real and a message that makes me think–whether that message is about the human condition, climate change, or socioeconomics. It doesn’t have to be straight literary fiction; magical realism is my favorite to read as well as write. Yes, I honestly love Salman Rushdie’s work. It doesn’t always have to be heavy, I’ve long talked about my addiction to Stephen King, think Neil Gaiman is fabulous, last year I enjoyed The Magicians series (a bit too young adult for my taste, though it was marketed as adult fantasy) and yes, way back when I thought the Da Vinci Code was a fun read. I didn’t notice a difference in what I’ve been choosing and enjoying over the past year and a half, still a fairly broad mix in my Nook–other than not being able to plow through the nonfiction political books cover to cover. Small doses.

The other day I saw a tweet from someone saying they couldn’t handle dystopian fiction right now, too close to home. I don’t get it. For me, good dystopians (or near-future, or post-apocalyptic) are exactly what I want to read. Not the Hunger Games type where that special chosen sixteen-year-old saves everyone, but more along the lines of Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart, or American War, by Omar El Akkad. People living through the muck.

I just finished The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. It was my book club’s pick for the month, not my first choice but I wasn’t opposed, should be a reasonably fun read and I’m usually willing to read anything. I’m not a James Patterson fan, but I read a few of his (back when he wrote his own novels) and the novelty of him teaming up with Bill Clinton was a curiosity worth satisfying. Or not. If it weren’t for the book club obligation, I would have stopped reading. Not because it was poorly written or too slow–though come on, why oh why didn’t an editor knock off the first 50 pages–after that it picked up and kept moving. Not because the President had more than a bit of Gary Stu to him–handsome, brilliant, combat-tested veteran/POW; chose a female VP, Chief of Staff, and FBI director, devoted father, grieving widow, opposed to treason and true humanitarian. But because it was so fucking upsetting to read a contemporary political thriller where the main character is a POTUS who cared about this country and the people in it.  A POTUS who knew Russia isn’t this country’s friend or ally.

Last month the book club choice was Salvage the Bones, by Jessmyn Ward. I loved it, highly recommend, and know I would have loved it five years ago, too. I’m both insanely jealous of her magic with words and grateful for the beauty she’s able to produce from the ugliest of scenarios. But I’m realizing the novels that catch my eye and hold my interest are a little different than what they might have included a few years ago. Those light, fast-paced political thrillers? Right now, for me, more stomach churning than page turning. Anyone else finding their fiction choices are different these days?



Yeah, But: aka, Dear Hillary

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m working on being ok. Can’t say I’m there, but I’m working on it. Between back to school, medical mayhem in our home, extreme weather events to obsess over, and a new political disaster every 24 (if we’re lucky we make it to 24) hours, easier said than done, no matter how many times I reread Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

Speaking of reading, yesterday I decided to get myself an early birthday gift and downloaded Hillary Clinton’s latest, What Happened, and Salman Rushdie’s latest, The Golden House. Why these two, when they’re both new releases, and therefore full (nook) price? Rushdie because he’s Rushdie. Obviously. And Clinton for several reasons. One, because instead of adjusting and leveling off, this current chapter in US history is more awful every day, and I just don’t see a path that truly takes us forward. Two, it’s interesting, I’m fascinated to read what her thoughts are, I do care what she has to say.  She’s a powerful woman who has done more and handled more than 99.7% of us dream of past the age of 9. Three, quotes I’ve read from What Happened make her seem/feel more human than anything outside of those photos floating around the web of her wearing her oversized glasses and earnest youth. And four, I’m pissed as hell seeing all those judgmental posts from people decrying her nerve to blame others, she needs to accept responsibility, blah blah blah. I’m talking about posts from Dems and Progressives.

Responsibility? How about our responsibility as citizens of a democratic society to remember that our elected leaders are human beings, with all the messiness, faults, and fuck-ups that go along with being human? Yes, we have always and we should always hold those in positions of leadership and power to a higher standard, but there’s a difference between accountability  and impunity. We cannot expect superhuman, and in my opinion, this line of thinking is uncomfortably close to the thinking that brought us 45, with his oversized id, hubris, complete disdain for others, disregard of the law, our government, and the norms that have always guided us. People voted for him because of all this. They didn’t want a democratic politician or a regular old human being. They wanted Big Daddy who was going to fix it all and take care of them, not allowing any pesky facts, norms, laws or humanity to get in the way.

As I said to a friend, yes, Hillary was a flawed candidate–I said here on the blog months before the election the DNC would share blame if 45 won.  In fact, I said I’d blame everyone. Well here we are. I don’t blame everyone, but culpability certainly does not rest with one person, or even a select few. A lot of history, a lot of hate, a lot of skewed facts, media slants, Russian interference, lack of compassion, lack of comprehension, and lack of complex thinking brought us here. Close to 63 million votes, I believe. And oh yeah, the electoral college–because when we saw the winner of the popular vote lose the election because of the electoral vote in 2000, we let it ride. Guess what? Bernie was flawed, too. But the choice wasn’t between two flawed and human candidates, it was between one that was flawed and one that was out and out cracked.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the expressions of wishing Clinton would fade away and be quiet feel an awfully lot like an admonition to be a good girl and go make coffee.

I began reading on the trains this morning.

Dear Mrs Clinton, 

I hope all those complaining and saying you need to accept blame read What Happened. At least the Author’s Note in the beginning, where you clearly take responsibility for your choices, actions, and words. 

I’m glad I purchased the book, but I’m sorry I began reading it today. I started tearing up on the way to the girl’s school, so I put it away. Blubbering mom on the subway doesn’t work out so well. I took it out again after drop-off, and ended up missing my stop. I don’t know how you managed to write and edit this with all so raw; each day bringing another insult to America. I don’t know if I can read it through right now, I’m working on being okay, and What Happened is looking so closely at all that isn’t okay. On the other hand, burying our heads in the sand hasn’t worked out so well, to say the least. Whether I read the entirety over the next few days or put it back in the queue and wait a few months, I still thank you for what I’ve read so far. For all the shame woven into the fabric of where we are as a country today, I thank you for the reminder that I’m living in an age where a woman finally did make it to be the first female nominee of a major political party in the United States–wearing white, the color of the suffragettes, to remind us all of the years and work it took to get there.  You did so with power, persistence, and grace. It matters. 


Respectfully yours, 

Mrs Fringe


Don’t Look Back

Closest thing in the house to a pillar of salt.

Closest thing in the house to a pillar of salt.

Art Child and I have discovered the joys of Netflix, and marathon-watching tv series.  Earlier this week, we finished Buffy.  I know it was hugely popular in its prime, but I had never seen it.  I wasn’t much of a tv watcher until the last 7? 10? years.  I’ll be honest, through the viewings of the first few seasons it was mostly me reading while Art Child watched.  With the later seasons it caught my interest more.  I don’t think I’d say this is a must-see series, but it was fun, and while I thought Buffy’s character was pretty much a yawn, I value the message of girl/female power and I did enjoy the way Spike’s character was developed.

Why am I talking about this?  Because it occurred to me if this was a book–or more accurately, a book series, it would be Young Adult.  That demographic of fiction that has experienced such a huge explosion of devoted readers (and writers) but holds absolutely no interest for me.  So if Buffy was a written series, would I have enjoyed it? I don’t think so.  If a book starts angsting in a way that makes my mind wander, I close the book.  If I was watching this show without Art Child, I don’t think I’d have made it past the first season.

Between spending a lot of time, thought, and in conversation about the how and why of Fifty Shades of Grey being such a hit, watching this tv series, and watching Nerd Child navigate his junior year of high school, I’m thinking about this popularity of Young Adult fiction with adult readers.  Regardless of what angle I use to approach, my overriding thought is, why?

I want to be clear, I am not bashing young adult fiction or young adults.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I like teenagers.  It’s pretty damned cool watching my kiddos and their friends navigate the world, figure themselves out, develop their interests, values, priorities, and become adults. Young adult fiction can be light and fun or serious and thoughtful, general fiction to romance to sci-fi and fantasy, same as children’s fiction or adult.  Of the first two novels that jump out out me when thinking of novels I read and loved this year, one had a woman in her forties as the main character, the other is written from the perspective of a 5 year old boy. But what makes young adult fiction young adult isn’t just the age of the protagonist, it’s the focus, the grappling with becoming, discovering who you are, losing your innocence and finding your place in the world–whether that world is in the South Bronx, a suburb in the midwest, or the planet XCTHRGH.

When I was a teen I read and loved Forever, by Judy Blume, and the works of Paul Zindel–My Darling, My Hamburger comes to mind.  I wished there were more of these books and authors then, and I’m glad there are more for today’s teens.  I haven’t been a teenager in a long time. Tastes change, interests change.

Being a teenager is hard. Dealing with high school is hard. I guess I think about it a lot because I’m-the-mama-that’s-why. Fun as it can be, parenting teens is hard. As an adult, I know this stage doesn’t last forever, though it feels that way. As an adult, I know things change, and growth and maturity have more to do with resilience and flexibility than anything else. I also know there’re a lot of pitfalls at this stage, pitfalls that can throw someone off course for the next 10-20 years (or more), pitfalls that if handled well can set someone up for a better life. Different choices make for some different challenges.  Both of my boys went to high powered boarding schools on scholarship–one long graduated, one attending currently. It was a decision Husband and I made because we wanted them to have every opportunity possible, and we believed they could each handle the workload, responsibility, and independence.  Along with these amazing opportunities and education is the early knowledge of exactly where you and your family sit on the socio-economic food chain, no parent on hand to provide chicken soup when you get sick, or help you out and run a load of laundry for you when you’re in the midst of finals. Did we make the right decisions?  I think so, I hope so, but I still question it every day. As I recently told Man Child, the worst kept secret is that none of us know what we’re doing as parents, we’re all doing the best we can, trying to avoid the out and out worst decisions and not fuck up too badly.

Positive and negative, there’s built in conflict, drama, and emotion with teens.  These are also musts with fiction to make it interesting.  But honestly, for me, mama-ing teens is enough.  Are there things I miss about being a teenager? I suppose.  I miss that oddly emphatic combination of hope, swagger, faith and conviction that my adult life would be what I wanted it to be, complete with multi-book publishing contracts and boobs that would remain firm and resilient forever.  Can I look back and recognize poor decisions I made, points when I wish I had gone right instead of left? Yup. Would I actually want to go back in time to do so?  Not a shot in hell.

And I’m not looking to regularly settle into the head of a teenaged main character when I have me time for reading.  An occasional foray, maybe. I don’t need the featured protagonists of novels I read to be direct reflections of me, i.e.: women who are forty thousand years old living broke urban lifestyles. I have friends of different backgrounds, ages, and experiences, so why limit my novels? I do need the protagonists and their conflicts to hold my interest, and for me, most fictional teens do not.  When I read it, I loved White Oleander, by Janet Fitch.  I wonder if it was published today, instead of in 1999, if it would be shelved as young adult. I think it’s likely, and I would have missed it. Yet I still don’t “get” what is it about these books–well written as many of them are–that is so compelling for many adults in their thirties, forties, and beyond that people are specifically seeking them out.  I don’t often feel I have much to look forward to, but looking backwards isn’t my answer. Except, of course, for the music.  I’m never growing out of the music I loved as a teen.


One More for the Road, or in this case, Three More

I suppose if you look really hard, a theme could be found on my bookshelf.

I suppose if you look really hard, a theme could be found on my bookshelf.

When we moved into this apartment, I packed away many of my books, and donated many more.  These are what’s left–not including cookbooks.

Followers have been listening to me whine about my writing (non)life, and my plan to take stock and move forward.  One of the ideas I was playing with was the thought of self-publishing short stories in groups of three or so.  Since I knew less than zero about self pubbing, I asked on the writers’ board.  I now know about zero, just enough to confirm that I am indeed too lazy and too broke to pursue self publishing at this time.  I’ve never done much in terms of submitting my short fiction. Most have never been subbed anywhere, the few that were sent out once and then filed away with the inevitable rejection letter that arrived a mere 9, 12, 15 months later.

Apparently my sanity plunged along with this week’s temperatures, so I sent off stories to literary  magazines, complete with crappy cover letters.  What the hell do you write on a cover letter when you’re unpublished and have nothing to say about yourself that ties in with said stories in any way?  “Mrs Fringe here, checking in with ovaries o’ steel.”

Why steel?  Because I will only submit to markets that (potentially) pay.  Doesn’t have to be a lot, doesn’t have to be The Paris Review (no, I didn’t send anything to them), but it is my work.  I’ve seen a lot of quotes go past on my Twitter feed recently, having to do with art and writing for the pure love and satisfaction. Most of these quotes attributed to writers who have reached some measure of success, naturally.

Nope.  My words are mine. I spend time, I edit, I pace, I obsess, I rewrite. They’re work, and if I don’t value my words, why/how would I expect anyone else to do so?  If I meet someone and mention that I walk dogs, and they then ask me to walk their dog, it’s understood that this will be a paid walk.  It has nothing to do with whether or not I love dogs.  I can just imagine it, if you really loved animals, you’d be completely fulfilled picking up my dog’s shit in the rain, just for the love of it, and be thankful for the exposure. The reality of this philosophy is that my already slim odds of having a story accepted go down significantly–there aren’t a whole lot of paying lit mags, and they regularly publish prize winning, bestselling authors.  All self explanatory as to why, though I write and have written shorts on a regular basis through the years, I’ve rarely subbed/queried them.

I expect my sanity to return with the projected rising temps.  I hope.

And because it’s Friday, a few tank photos, white balance adjusted.

IMG_3200 IMG_3201 IMG_3209 IMG_3211 IMG_3216 IMG_3224 IMG_3227 IMG_3233 IMG_3248 IMG_3251 IMG_3254

Enjoy your Friday, Fringelings.  And when it’s last call tonight, tell your bartender drinks should be on him, for the love of it.

And Mrs Fringe Takes the Bait

again.  Even though I know it wasn’t meant for me, personally.  Let’s face it, I’m a complete unknown–which is kind of my point.

Plate coral eating a silverside.

Plate coral eating a silverside. So how come I feel more like that fish than the coral?

Earlier this morning I was going about my usual morning procrastinations, checking out Facebook, Twitter, etc, and I came across a link to this piece in the NY Times Book Review/bookends.   I know this is a rant I’ve indulged in many times, but aaaargh!  First let me say I haven’t read the original Lionel Shriver essay referenced, where she apparently wrote about feeling nostalgic for her previous commercial failure. Mmm hmm.  I adore her work and believe she is truly a brilliant writer.  Frankly, I’m pretty sure if I read her essay I’m never going to be able to read her fiction with an open mind again.  At the moment I’m wishing I didn’t click the link and read what I did.

Francine Prose and Mohsin Hamid each respond to this question of author success, the pros and cons.  Of course there are benefits and disadvantages, as there are to every choice, every person’s life/lifestyle/career.  Both Ms. Prose and Mr. Hamid are successful authors, and it was Mr. Hamid’s (who for the record, has achieved both commercial and critical success)  closing statement that has me pacing and ranting at my dogs.

“It’s a radical thought, but I wonder whether in some way we professional fiction writers might be better off if, like poets of old, we were to make nothing from our writing and had to earn our living elsewhere. Radical or not, it’s how most writers actually live today, working their day jobs, and writing — unpaid, alone, with passion — at night.”

Maybe my reaction is because I’m not part of that lovely “we.” I’ve yet to be paid for any of my words, therefore I am not a professional fiction writer.   But I make no secret of the fact that I want to be, and won’t accept being shamed for it.  If you want me to, I’ll admit to being a calculating bitch who wants my words to be read and I want to earn a dollar for them.

How unfortunate that my calculations are off.  If they weren’t, I’d be part of the we, one of the published, one of the eek! successful.

math disaster

math disaster (Photo credit: the mad LOLscientist)

What was I doing before screwing around online and reading this link?  Obsessing, again, about when I might hear back from agents, and debating with myself about whether or not I’m doing the right thing by holding off on sending more queries until I do. Because I would like to receive an offer of representation, and I would like to be published.  I’ll even go so far as to say I dream of being well published, and having my novel be well received.  That dirty whisper of success.

I am not the voice of the unpublished everywhere.  There are people who say they write solely for themselves, the work is enough, and if they’re never published they’re ok with that.  Though I can’t relate to those thoughts, I accept them at face value.  But they aren’t my thoughts.  As I’ve said many, many times before, I write to be read.  When I write, yes, I write the story as I see it, the characters as I imagine them, but I write with readers in mind, thinking about which words might be most appealing, which images will make sense to readers other than myself.

I do appreciate Mr. Hamid’s statements about commercial success involving luck.  I read no hint of dismissal or condescension in this, the talent and skill have to be present for any writer to be in a position to receive such luck, but yes, it’s a part of “big” success.

No doubt, there is a certain luxury in the process of writing without contracts or deadlines or expectations.  If other areas of my life are extra busy–hell, if I don’t feel like it! I don’t actually have to produce any words.  And I’ll go further, at this moment, I don’t have to think about bad reviews on Goodreads, or worry about what my children’s teachers–or my children–will think of me, personally, when/if they read my work.  That isn’t nothing, negative reviews and sometimes personal attacks are hurtful, even if you’re cashing a check. From my limited view of the world and the publishing industry, would I trade these luxuries for a few readers and a contract?  Absolutely. Am I crass for admitting this?   Maybe I’m just not that deep.

When Man Child talks about becoming a chef, and I see him busting his butt putting hours of hard, sweaty labor into it–not just cooking, but learning about other cultures, becoming fluent in other languages, and learning the business skills necessary, I don’t pat him on the head and tell him how wonderful it is that he can cook his own dinner.  And no one else responds to him by saying hey, maybe one day you can be a fry cook at McDonald’s.

The reality is that very, very few of those who attain publication will achieve such success that any of this is even a question.  As quoted above, not many published authors get to “quit the day job.”  No one argues this, not me, not Mr. Hamid, not anyone with any remote connection to the publishing industry.  I know this is the reality, but when I dream, that’s what I dream of, not nobly burning my pages for warmth and starving in a garret.



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Lost in Space

Lost in the space

Lost in the space (Photo credit: JimmyMac210)

Feeling kinda


Betwixt and between.


I’m trying to decide what to work on next, while I begin the process of querying.  I have to be working on something, because querying without another project to focus on is a certain design plan that leads to a very fitted white jacket.  Nicely accessorized with padded walls, but really, I’d prefer something loose and flowing right now.  I could go back to the WIP that’s been frying brain cells for years already.  I could begin something completely new.  I’ve got an idea for a character, but no plot.  This is new for me.  Usually by the time I’m at or near the end of a project, and I’ve been writing regularly, the first portion of the next project seems to write itself, because it’s been brewing.  Not this time.  I’m not blocked, just unsure of which direction I want to take.



betwixt (Photo credit: Daniel*1977)

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to do some reading.  In doing so, I’ve discovered a fundamental truth about Mrs Fringe has changed.  I don’t remember not knowing how to read, I don’t remember not loving to read, and I’ve always been a trope of a bookworm.  Sure I had books I liked, books I loved, books I raced to finish because I didn’t enjoy them, but I read them.  I would read anything, and finish it.  If I had nothing new to read, I would reread; hell, I remember my mother yelling at me because I was standing in the refrigerator, reading the labels on the condiments.


I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been broke for long enough that I’ve adjusted to not having things to read, or because of my period earlier this year of not being able to lose myself in a novel, but it has changed.  I’ve picked up at least three books in the past few months that I didn’t enjoy, and I didn’t finish them.  How does this happen?  Something so much a part of me, how others see me and how I define myself, no longer true.


I’ve also read several books I liked, and a couple that I loved.  But now that I’m feeling this whole whichwaydoIgo in terms of writing, I wonder if the two are connected.  I wonder if Heinz is still running that write-our-slogan campaign.


A gruesome accident

A gruesome accident (Photo credit: KateMonkey)





Wild Thing, or This, That, and the Other


Lion (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Walking down the street to meet Husband…I get in the car, and he’s laughing.  “You look like un animal!” This is how Mrs Fringe knows it’s time for a haircut.  For now, I stuck a clip in my hair.  But I’m going to follow this thought for a bit.

I did take a few days off after finishing the first draft, and just read.  One of the books I read was The Wolf Gift, by Anne Rice.  She is one of those authors who provokes strong responses among her readers.  You love her or hate her.  I love her.  I’ve heard for years about her not taking editorial suggestions anymore.  Have I seen it in her books? Maybe, sometimes, but nothing enough to interrupt the suspension of disbelief.  With Rice, I’ve fallen in love with angels, vampires, mummies, witches, castrati, New Orleans, the gens de couleur libres, and became fascinated by thoughts of the early life of Christ.  Yes, her prose tends towards purple, but wow, can she tell a story.  And sexy.  Leaving her erotica books out of it, her writing, her characters, ooze sensuality.  Not my writing style, but as a reader I adore her details and world building.

I have to say, I was disappointed in The Wolf Gift.  The MC didn’t feel believable, even before he turned into a werewolf.  And I couldn’t suspend disbelief for the whole were/woman secksy times.  Even putting smell to the side (very hard for me to do), how in the world were they kissing when he had a snout?  I watch True Blood, love it (no, don’t love the books it’s based on), but when Sookie and Alcide were smooching, he was in human form.  Guess I’m just a prude–who needs a haircut, so Husband isn’t accused of  kissing a mangy lion.

I’ve begun the process of reading my manuscript, cleaning up noticeable, small errors; making more notes for things I want to add or change, and writing an expanded outline based on what’s there. Playing with the idea of adding another character and subplot, I feel like the story is missing…something.

But I’m taking it slow, it’s too soon to rip it apart completely, I need some distance.  I’m worn out, and I suppose this post reflects the way my brain has been unfocused over the past week.  Flower Child has been focused on her art, drawing a lot of trees, so we’ve both been paying attention.  The other day, I took some more bad NY wildlife photos.  Obviously, I have to share them here.

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Kin, Utopia, and Rape

For me, reading fiction is like a bag of dill pickle chips.  I’ve learned to resist temptation most of the time.  Earlier this year I was so blocked I couldn’t read even if I let myself.  But when I’m in a phase…I can’t eat one.  Once I start, I have to keep going until I’m licking the residue off of the bag.

Mrs Whyte's Kosher Dill Pickle

Mrs Whyte’s Kosher Dill Pickle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most novels are read, details forgotten within a day. (I’m a fast reader.) Maybe I’ll remember the general plot line, or the main character, and so I’ll remember the author’s name and look for more of their work.  Then, of course, there are the macaroni and cheese books.  You know, the comfort novels you can and do re-read.  Other books are like the  special dinners you remember forever.  Even if you only got to enter the restaurant once,  some meals have a huge impact on your life and memories.

The Kin of Ata are Waiting For You, by Dorothy Bryant, is one of those books for me.  *spoilers ahead*

Cover of "The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for ...

Cover of The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You

Initially, it was published in 1971 under a different name as a novella, by a small (I think feminist) press.  A few years later, it was picked up by Random House and retitled, maybe 1976.  I first read it around 1983, looooved it, but until last week I hadn’t seen it around or read it in at least twenty years.

Oh yeah, feminist sci fi, in line with Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ, and the queen, Ursula K Le Guinn.

The protagonist is an anti-hero, a truly despicable man who seems to represent some of the worst of what the Y chromosome can produce.  The book opens with him, an unnamed successful novelist who is in the middle of a fight with a woman.  It’s ugly, it’s crude, and he kills her.  An accident, but his thoughts in response are all about him, how this might impact his life, how he can get away with this.  He runs away, crashes his car, and awakens in an entirely different world. Ata.  A mysterious island, a utopia where the inhabitants are governed by their dreams and the greater good.  No violence, no sexism, no racism, no written word.  They know about the world he comes from, and somehow they keep the balance of that world by maintaining their own.  Sex isn’t puritanical, not only for procreational purposes, but it isn’t without consequence, either.  He does not magically accept this new world, the people, or their ways, and tries to bring the “real world’s” ugliness with him.  As he starts to accept where he is, and begins to understand them, he thinks he will return the favor.  Yanno, benevolent privileged white guy, gonna teach the savages the error of their ways, help them out with all his words, studliness and of course, his superior understanding that more is better.

This is not a likable main character.  It takes a while to find anything sympathetic in him, and just when you think you have, Bryant raises the stakes and you’re disgusted with him all over again.  But because she keeps raising those stakes, you keep reading.  He’s one big “id” and the kin of Ata are all “superego.”  The book is very Jungian, which fascinated me when I first read it thirty years ago, and fascinates me now.  Her descriptions of the island and the people, their customs, all beautiful.  There is growth for the protagonist, and a definite (though not easy) character arc, and redemption by the end.  But again, not easy.  In the same way he confuses the kin for simplistic people, it’s easy to assume he will be saved by acknowledging their spiritual “superiority,” without facing any consequences.The Protagonist

Because it’s been so long since I last read it, some of what I took away is different, some of what I noticed are things I didn’t notice then.  The time period?  My youth?  I don’t know.  But I do see some “preachy” factor now, that I didn’t then.  I wondered, as I read, if Bryant was raised in, or had spent time with, the Quakers.  Quite a few of the customs and beliefs made me feel like I was in a Friends’ Meeting House.

Part of the book is a love story–though not a romance, and this is the part that has me rambling on today.  I have one absolute rule in reading or writing romance.  Rape is not romantic.  I can never, and will never, accept a hero as a romantic lead if he crosses the line.  For me, crossing the line doesn’t mean intercourse.  Any scene where the “hero” uses physical force to restrain a heroine, or hold her down long enough for her to realize and acknowledge those “strange new stirrings” and I’m done.  I’ve heard some writers of historical romance (not many) say well, you have to understand the context, the times….  Umm, no, I don’t.

How could I not have remembered this scene, or loved this book anyway?  Yes, he rapes his love interest, Augustine.

He knows she doesn’t want him, but she doesn’t fight him off, doesn’t yell for help, so he justifies his actions, telling himself if she really didn’t want it, she would have called for help, hit him, something.  Not only does he do this, but a relationship develops between them later, paralleling his spiritual growth.  Can this be?  Can I, as a modern pseudo-feminist, accept and still like this novel?  Should I oppose it on principle?  If I had never read this book before last week, had no associations with it, I would have stopped reading.

The scene itself was interestingly written, and in many ways, it made sense as a powerful statement for a gender neutral, post misogynist society.  She could have fought him off, she was at least as strong, if not stronger.  The impression was that it was him who was reduced by this act, so ridiculous, so disappointing, it was the tantrum of a child, and she would wait until he had finished his fit before she took care of herself.

Augustine becomes pregnant from this rape.  Yes, it’s part of Bryant’s theme of consequences, action/reaction. I assumed he would never, as long as he was on Ata,  be able to forget who he was, what he brought to the table and thought was superior, every time he saw the baby/child.  I kept waiting.  No matter how he evolved, truly loving Augustine, their child, and Ata, I was disappointed.  In his depths, it’s clear he understands his actions were wrong, even as he committed this act.  And again, this never tries to be a romance, and the protagonist is never a hero.  Even within the framework of a “love story,” as opposed to a romance, Augustine’s feelings for him are complex, and never overshadow what she believes is the greater good–or better for herself.  And on Ata, the greater good and the individual “good” are so entwined they cannot be separated.

I understand why Bryant included this scene, this heinous act on the part of the protagonist.  He was a murderer, but it was through the rape that he realized just how his belly was scraping the bottom, and begin the climb towards caring about others and his actions.  I understand it, but I feel squinky every time I think about it, and writing about it.

On Ata, there is very little disease, illness, or disorder.  There is pain, injury, aging and death; the kin are human beings, not supernatural creatures.  But another detail I hadn’t remembered, the one specific mention of a physical disorder, was of a member with epilepsy.  He wasn’t seen as special, having a direct path to God or dreams, nor was he seen as less than anyone else.  He was kin.  And it gives me a connection to who I am today, what my life includes in reality, not the fantasy of what I thought would be.

I’m wondering what will happen if revisit some of my other old favorites.  If I blow the dust off of The Once and Future King, will I find might makes right, after all? Happy Hour Happy Hour (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

Paring Down

Old Woman Peeling Potatoes

Old Woman Peeling Potatoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the principles behind the various living simply movements.  Think about it, in our frenetic day to day lives, doesn’t the idea of slowing down and simplifying sound tempting?

Not in an extremist way, I have no interest in renouncing technology and indoor plumbing;  living completely off the grid, but just saying enough is enough, enough is good enough, I’m going to value time to breathe and enjoy. I’m always interested in the stories of people who decide to do this, sell their second and third cars, their McMansions, and move to adorable, solar powered log homes in Montana, or Maine or Idaho.

1919 Indoor Toilet Ad

1919 Indoor Toilet Ad (Photo credit: dok1)

Except, reading these blogs, how to guides, and articles, these people all seem to have started off with significantly more than they need. And their new homes always have enough room for comfortable furniture, a working garden, room for all who live there and the stuff they continue to value. How does one decide to live simply in the city with a family and limited budget? Is it possible to make it a choice, when so many “no’s” are out of necessity?

I’ve known/know a few who seem to, but they’re all either single or two people (couple or one adult with a child). None have significant, chronic medical needs. Their dry goods aren’t sitting out on kitchen counters because the cabinets are crowded with medicines and supplements.

I like the idea of getting rid of unnecessary stuff and clutter.  It’s the battle of clutter here, because there just isn’t a place for everyone’s stuff.  But what is unnecessary?  My books? Bite your tongue, I need those! Not every book I’ve ever read, and over the past couple of years I’ve passed along at least a hundred, but what’s left are my companions, my solace when I’m feeling stuck or lonely or blue. I could replace them with an e-reader, but that would involve money to purchase the e-reader and buy the books–I already own!–electronically.

There are now 4 small boxes of stuff sitting in my living room from my mother’s apartment. One that’s waiting to be passed along. 3 small boxes from my mother’s life which includes memorabilia from my father and grandmother’s lives. I’d like to get rid of the big wall unit taking up space, but I’m not about to renounce TV either (yes, I do need to watch the Housewives), so that can’t happen until I can replace the old tube TV with one of the skinny hang on the wall things, and a smaller unit to hold the cable box, iPod dock, and Wii.  Money again.

And what about time? Where do these hours to enjoy life come from?  All those luxuries of modern living (many of which I don’t have), like a dishwasher or washer and dryer are luxuries because of the time they save.

Maybe living simply is a luxury itself, only meant for those who can do so as a choice.

What do you think?


Dollhouse (Photo credit: cliff1066™)

Missing: My Lost Love, Fiction

The Missing Piece (book)

The Missing Piece (book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not mourning this one. I refuse.  She’ll come back, I’m sure of it.  Have you seen her? She’s a master of disguise, sometimes wearing a ragged old jacket, pages so worn they’re soft and fuzzy, sometimes a sharp and spiffy hardcover, crackling when she flashes that first page.  She has another angle I used to know well, flowing from half a thought in the shower out through my keyboard, gaining heft in pages each day.  The perfect companion, able to reflect every mood, never moaning that I don’t accept her as is, sharper and stronger when I mark her with the pencil; cutting, editing, resculpting.  The best part about her is the way she can be completely, totally yours, and still shared with countless others, solidifying the feeling that you aren’t alone, and have a place in the world.

Venetian courtesan

Venetian courtesan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bah. I’d say that’s enough purple prose, don’t you think? I was always one of those; loved to read more than anything else, would skip meals, sleep, outings, just about anything to stay immersed as long as possible in a good book.  As a kid I loved the typical girlie classics: Black Beauty, the Little House on the Prairie Series, Little Women.  The first book I remember reading is The Lonely Doll, and I read it over and over. I found it again several years ago and purchased it, intending to read it to Flower Child.  Ummm, no.  I’m more than a bit horrified by how much I loved that book, there’s something dark, maybe even salacious in those pages. I promptly read a biography of the author, Dare Wright.  The bio did much to explain the storybook, but again, I won’t be using it as a bedtime story.

The Lonely Doll

The Lonely Doll (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Flower Child is sitting next to me, on seeing this ^pic, she said, “She can be my doll.” Have I mentioned no?)

I found Ordinary People in the library when I was ten or eleven, read it, loved it, wrote a book report about it, had my parents called and I was told to do a different report on a different book.

I also discovered category romance about the same time.  An elderly neighbor (fabulously French, served fresh lemonade) of a relative who lived in California belonged to the Harlequin book club.  After visiting, she shipped me four cartons of those books.  I tore through them like a bag of chips, licking the salt off the foil at the end. Then came science fiction, fantasy, horror, and my forever love, Stephen King.

I found Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates  and felt something I couldn’t define, something profound and spiritual, but at the same time they felt so real, so rooted in the collective consciousness it was my youthful vegetarian self tearing into a raw chunk of beef.  Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Truman Capote, the list goes on. The poetry years, ee cummings, Anne Sexton, Edna St Vincent Millay….


Bookshelf (Photo credit: heipei)

Throughout the reading was the writing.  Mostly short stories, several years of angsty poetry, and later, full length manuscripts.

Broke or flush, content or heartbroken, writing or reading, fiction has been my lifelong companion. Different genres for different phases of life, different moods.  I wouldn’t say I was indiscriminate, but rather,  I’ve had broad tastes; seen value, worth, and beauty in the different styles.  So what the heck? My purse is lighter, no novel shoved in there. My end tables are neater, no texts I’m using for research toppling over. Flashes of scenes that need to be written rinse away with the shampoo. I’m singing a torch song, looking for my love. And let me tell you, my off key warble is nothing you want to hear for long. Think Edith Bunker.

Smithsonian American History Museum

Smithsonian American History Museum (Photo credit: Steve Tatum)