Butterflies and girls

We went to Tamagawa Park today. Z is carrying her lunch in her bag, Tiny is carrying her stuffed Pooh Bear.

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There were tons of these black and red butterflies around.

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Sometimes you need a sister’s help

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Trying to touch the tree with her toe. (Sticking her tongue out helps.)DSC01249

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She’s happy to stay closer to the ground.

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This park is the site of 8 burial mounds from the 7th century (the Kofun period). They don’t look like much more than little hills from the outside (which is the only way you can see them), but they’re large tombs. The one pictured below is tomb 4.

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The girls put on a show.

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Photos from Odaiba

We took my parents to Odaiba to gorge ourselves on pancakes and whipped cream. We succeeded in that, and also saw some other stuff.

This is my favorite building. It’s from the future.

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The Rainbow Bridge, seen in such classics as Cars 2.

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See those two buildings in the distance? Those are the docks where the giant mecha lands to recharge. One for each foot.

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Which giant mecha? This one.

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There was a lovely flower … display? I’m not sure what to call it, but it was a bunch of flowers planted along a walkway that would only be there for a limited time.

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We also went to Venus Fort, which is a mall made to look like Venice even though the name implies outer space. It’s because the Japanese vowels are all soft, so it’s pronounced veh-nuh-s, like Venice. Anyway, the girls love it there, and I got an awesome skirt with zippered panels all over it (skirt not pictured).

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Fiddy billion pictures of cherry blossoms.

Just for you.

At Shinjuku Gyoen.

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This woman was setting up to take pictures of her doll amongst the blossoms.

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Apparently Tiny’s shirt choice was on trend.

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So many people come out for hanami. (Hanami= cherry blossom viewing.)

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The front of the line to get into the park.

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Cherry blossoms at night in Nakameguro.

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This is what most of my pictures looked like.

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We hit a large crowd and realized they were all stopped to take pictures of the cat.

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Hanami at Tamagawa Park. Snow cones (and other festival food) are an essential part of the experience.

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Hanami at Senzokuike.

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Choco bananas.

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Yes, this woman is taking pictures of her stuffed frog in the blossoms. To each her own.

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A different day at Shinjuku Gyoen.

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Each of the following are different species of cherry blossoms. (At least I think so. What do I know for cherry blossoms?)

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These are not cherry blossoms, but I love them.

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Books I read this week: April week 1 and 2

This is what I read over the last two weeks.


Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link. I really enjoyed Kelly Link’s previous short story collections- I’d rate them super high on my list of liked things. They’re magical and unexpected and special and odd. This collection is as well written, but not as strange as her other stories, which was disappointing. Many of the stories have to do with superheroes and there are some strong reoccurring themes, but I prefer her earlier collections, (Stranger Things Happen: Stories, Magic for Beginners, Pretty Monsters).

“So my question is this. Does Angel the vampire keep a pair of black leather pants in his closet? Just in case? Like fat pants? Do vampires have closets? Or does he donate his evil pants to Goodwill when he’s good again? Because if so then every time he turns evil, he has to go buy new evil pants.”


Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar is an absolutely stunning book. It’s so well written. Sometimes I forget how brilliant books can be. Then I read something like this where the words just sing and I remember. It’s an account of life with the Bloomsbury group- a group of bohemian artists and writers that included Virginia Woolf and her siblings, E.M. Forster, Duncan Grant and others. The book is written from the perspective of Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woof’s sister, who struggles with loving and being exasperated and eventually hurt by her mad, genius sister. Vanessa was an accomplished painter in her own right, and she and her siblings occupied a time in England where gender and class roles were changing and adapting. Her voice is so clear in this book that it made me want to learn more about her. I’ve read a lot about and by Virginia, but there’s a whole other side to the story, and this book makes an excellent attempt at shining light on it. The writing is so honest and the language so beautiful. I really highly recommend it.

Getting Virginia to Cambridge had been like moving a pound of ants.

Thoby’s at homes have the soft, unpredictable feeling of a hat tossed high in the air.

I wanted Thoby’s friends to see her dazzle the way she can when she chooses to rake the conversation into a leafy pile and set it alight.

Friday nights-for artists. Shape. Colour. Light. Depth. The fractured, messy journey of image. I hope people come. I want so much. I want these nights to be brave. I want to elbow words out of the way and give art the floor. In Cornwall, I felt wrapped in such a sense of what was possible. Each canvas soaked up the paint hungrily. The brush thrummed with purpose. It was not the outcome that mattered but the doing. I want to bottle that feeling and serve it to my guests.

Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey by Marie Mutsuki Mockett is a really interesting book about grief in Japan. Mockett is half Japanese, and her Japanese family runs a Buddhist temple in Northern Japan, near the area affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The book is a memoir of her travels through Japan as she attends to the services for her grandparents’ remains (their deaths were not connected to the natural disasters) and deals with her grief over her father’s death (also non disaster related). She decides to learn more about Buddhism, and as she does so, she learns more about how the natural disasters effected the Japanese and how they are grieving. It’s a thought provoking book, and it opened my eyes to a number of things about Japan. If I have one comment it’s that her grief was somewhat missing from the book- it’s mentioned but not felt by the reader. That’s fine, but for a book about grief it struck me as a lack. But I would recommend it to anyone interested in Japan and/or grief.

All across Japan people have been suffering for a long time. A long time. And the tsunami has revealed our modern problems, and the limitations of how we now care for each other.

He now trusted in the great wisdom that life was full of suffering and happiness and that wisdom lay in this tension.

I often felt in those day that to be stuck in grief was to feel kidnapped against one’s will and forced to go to some foreign country, all the while just longing to go back home.


Prudence (The Custard Protocol) by Gail Carriger. Any book by Gail Carriger is like a little tailor made present for me. I don’t know how she does it, but they’re just perfect. This book is the start of a new series that follows the daughter of Lady Alexia Maccon from the Parasol Protectorate series. Prudence (called Rue) is your typical Victorian young woman with a meta-natural mother, a werewolf father, and a vampire foster father, who herself has the ability to “steal” other people’s powers and use them as her own for a short time. Rue has been given the assignment from Lord Alkadama (her foster father) to go to India to investigate a new sort of tea, and so she assembles a crew for her new dirigible (The Spotted Custard) and goes off in search of adventure, which of course, she finds. It’s marvelous.

Lady Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama was enjoying her evening exceedingly. The evening, unfortunately, did not feel the same about Lady Prudence.

“I’ll have you know, infant, I was a madcap adventurer of epic proportions. Not that you should take that as permission, mind you.”

In the end, Queen Ivy gave up mothering her son, and Percy stopped poking her vampires with letter openers.

If Dama had taught her nothing else, it was that the outrageous was often one’s best disguise. It is a very great thing, my Puggle, not to be taken seriously, he had once said.

I’m currently reading The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. It’s really excellent so far. What are you reading?

Books I read this week: All of March

The beginning of March was slow reading for me, which, looking past over the last couple years, is regular for me. I read three books over the first 3/4ths of the month, then binged on 5 books in the last week. Part of that had to do with getting bogged down in a biography, but we’ll get to that.

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente is lovely. It begins with a brilliant inversion of the beginning of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, where instead of a little human girl getting swept away into Fairyland a little troll boy is swept into the world of humans as a changeling. The sentences and paragraphs are the same but flipped, and it’s a treat to read. The book follows the little boy as he forgets his troll past and struggles as a human boy, and then returns to Fairyland, breaking all the rules in the process. September from The Girl books makes an appearance, and her involvement drives the action to the cliffhanger ending. Valente’s sentences and images are as wonderful as ever, but this book does suffer slightly from being forced to exist in the human world. But even then it’s lovely and insightful.

“There isn’t really a choice, is there?” he whispered. “Adventure cheats. It’s so much shinier and louder than Not Adventure.”

It was Normal to take the nice things your mother knits for you and say, Thank you, they are very nice. Especially if she has made you a sweater with matching mittens and scarves and a long, oversize hat with a long tail and a pom on the end, blue and orange and red and green, with row after row of polar bears and kangaroos knitted into it, which is quite a lot of work. It was Not Normal to stretch the hat out so you could fit inside it up to your neck and fall down the stairs screaming that you are not Thomas, but Horace the Genie of Ten Thousand Burnt Toasts and you are here to take back all your wishes.

A child equals the mass of Fairyland times the speed of luck squared.

Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker took sooooo long to read. Two and a half weeks, which is years to me. It might possibly have taken longer than it took me to read the biography of Van Gogh, and that book is almost 1000 pages.  I don’t know why it took so long, it was a good book and Josephine is quite interesting, but I think part of it is that as the author acknowledges at the get go, Josephine was a manipulative person, and I got a little tired of it. Nothing that she did had real consequences, there was always someone to get her out of any trouble that she got herself into.  She brought herself out of poverty and became world renowned, which is compelling, but she also used people and made some really questionable decisions. Over the course of her life she adopted 12 kids from different countries with the goal of proving that there could be a global family that transcends race, but the result was less like Angelina Jolie and more like if Lindsay Lohan did the same thing. Although that comparison isn’t quite fair to Josephine. So much of her time and effort went in to providing for her kids that she was never there to nurture them. But she also made such questionable business decisions and turned to the public’s pity to bail her and her kids out so much that the Lohan comparison isn’t completely inappropriate. Anyway, I’m glad to know more about her, and I was glad to be able to move onto a different book.

To save fifteen monkeys from the place where God had put them, my second mother, filled with goodwill and ignorance,  took them away and killed every one of them.

You loved her, and she hurt you, that was the price you paid for being with Josephine.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is such a good book. Set during WW2, it follows two characters; Werner, a young German boy who has a prodigious skill with radios, and Marie-Laure, a blind girl in France. Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris with what could possibly be a priceless, cursed gem (there have been 3 copies of it made and no one knows who has the real one), and end up in a seaside town where the citizens have decided to resist the German occupation. Werner ends up at a school for Hitler youth where he undergoes indoctrination and trauma and ends up in the battlefield locating the sources of illegal radio transmissions. Since Marie-Laure’s great uncle’s home has a radio transmitter in the attic, it’s only a matter of time until their lives intersect, and it’s very well done. There are some lovely ruminations on the power of music and memory and generosity. I also really appreciate the realistic look at both the German and the French during this time. Werner isn’t evil by any stretch of the imagination, but he goes along with what others are doing because it’s easier than standing against it. In many cases, going along is literally the only way to survive. On the other side, Marie-Laure and her family have to decide whether standing up against the enemy is worth risking their safety.  In both cases, the safest thing would be to just do nothing, but that comes with its own consequences. It’s such a thought provoking, wonderful book. I really really liked it.

“Isn’t doing nothing a kind of troublemaking?” “Doing nothing is doing nothing.” “Doing nothing is as good as collaborating.”

Frederick said we don’t have choices, don’t own our lives, but in the end it was Werner who pretended their were no choices, Werner who watched Frederick dump the pail of water at his feet- I will not- Werner who stood by as the consequences came raining down.

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is also so so so good. It’s set in an apocalyptic world where the majority of the world has died of a epidemic. The remaining survivors either find places to settle down or travel around as nomads. One such group is the Traveling Symphony who travel between settlements, staging performances of  music and Shakespeare plays. The story bounces through time, following the members of the Symphony in the present and following various characters in the time of the epidemic. The movement back and forth through time works so well, as information is parceled out and you come to realize how various characters are connected.  The descriptions of the epidemic and its aftermath are disturbing in a “wow, this could really happen” kind of way, but not sensationalized at all, which is probably what makes them so disturbing.  I love the idea of the Traveling Symphony and their motto, taken from Star Trek, that survival is insufficient. That’s why they go around performing Shakespeare, and I love that so much. There’s a quote that I can’t find because I read a friend’s copy and therefore couldn’t mark it that says that the troupe tried other plays but everyone kept asking for Shakespeare because they wanted the best of humanity. Yes. Read it, you won’t be disappointed.

Confessions by Kanae Minato is a disturbing little book. It is the story of Yuko Moriguchi, a middle school teacher whose 4 year old daughter dies at the school where Moriguchi teaches. It is deemed an accident, but Moriguchi figures out that her daughter was actually murdered by two kids in her (Moriguchi’s) class. She confronts them in front of the whole class and sets up her revenge on them. The book then switches points of view as the story continues, and we see the action from the point of view of the mother of one of the murderers and then the murderer himself, a friend of the other murderer, and then the other murderer. Each switch reveals a wider picture of what actually happened, and what each person involved thought was going on. It’s an eye opening reminder that we never really know what someone else is thinking unless we talk to them about it. Each one of them has a reason to believe why what they’re doing is right, even if some of those reasons are insane.

Lots of people fritter away their lives complaining that they were never able to find their true calling. But the truth is that most of us probably don’t even have one. So what’s wrong, then, with deciding on the thing that’s right in front of you and doing it wholeheartedly?

But I have to say that I’m less interested in catering to your adolescent whims and more concerned that you grow up someday to be people who are capable of considering the feelings of others.

Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness: One-Minute Tips for Decluttering and Refreshing Your Home and Your Life by Donna Smallin is a collection of short little tips for organizing your house. There’s not really anything new in it, but I read it in less than an hour and it cost me 99 cents so I won’t complain.

Clutter is what you end up with when you have more stuff than you need.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is so good and so sad. It begins on the morning that sixteen year old Lydia Lee’s family realizes that she’s missing, and follows the aftermath of her discovery in the neighborhood lake. As the book goes on, we learn the history and inner thoughts of each family member, and much like Confessions, realize that we can’t know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. Lydia’s father is Chinese, her mother is white, and as the book is set in 1976, their relationship and history is fraught. They bring those concerns into the lives of their children without realizing it. They consider Lydia the perfect child and lavish all of their attention on her, to the detriment of her older brother and younger sister. Everyone thinks that they understand where everyone else is coming from, but in their grief everything unravels and everything that everyone is holding back comes out. Their secrets aren’t even secrets; they don’t necessarily realize that they’re keeping anything from anyone, they just see the world the way they see it and assume that everyone else does the same. It’s a heartbreaking, eye opening story, as you recognize the damage that families can do to each other without even realizing it. It reminded me a couple times of  The Hours by Michael Cunningham, especially Laura’s story where she struggles with the weight of her responsibility to her son. “He will watch her forever. He will always know when something is wrong. He will always know precisely when and how much she has failed.” That line from Laura’s mind could sum up all of Everything I Never Told You.

It’s gorgeously written and painful to read, and so incredibly good.

But the moment flashed lightning-bright to Hannah. Years of yearning had made her sensitive, the way a starving dog twitches its nostrils at the faintest scent of food. She could not mistake it. She recognized it at once: love, one-way deep adoration that bounced off and did not bounce back; careful, quiet love that didn’t care and went on anyway.

The minister reads the Twenty-third psalm, but in the revised text: I have everything I need instead of I shall not want; Even if I walk through a very dark valley instead of Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It feels disrespectful, a corner cut. Like burying his daughter in a plywood box.

Photos! How about some lovely photos?

Spring is here, which means flowers are here, which means I’m taking pictures. It also means that I’m moving pictures off my phone and finding all sorts of pictures I forgot were there. And so I post.

These are not cherry blossoms. But they’re beautiful.

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These aren’t cherry blossoms either. I’m pretty sure they’re plum blossoms.

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There’s a flock of green parrots that live in our neighborhood. They’re awesome. Here’s a bunch just hanging out.


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This is a very pretty butterfly/moth/winged creature.

 

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There was a display one day at the train station and the girls got to try on train conductor hats and dress up as the little mascot guy.

 

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Maybe he’s not so little.

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I had this for lunch one day. It was delicious. (Banana chocolate french toast.)

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Our train station in a dusting of snow.

 

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The girls being models. I love their model expressions.


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This is possibly my favorite graffiti in Tokyo.

 

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The house down the street where they film a TV show (we think) is being renovated. It’s strange without windows.

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A while back we went to a bunny cafe in Omotesando, and I can’t believe I didn’t post pictures before this. There were cages with bunnies that you could pet or feed, but not take out. Two bunnies could be out at a time, and the people who worked there were the ones who did that moving. The bunnies hopped around the little tables where you could sit and drink tea or hot chocolate, and you could buy cups of food to feed them.

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They may have been a tiny bit excited.

 

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This sign was from the cat cafe next door. It was not as welcoming to young ones, but their sign made me laugh.

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Hope

I’ve needed this quote 3 or 4 times in the last week and couldn’t remember from what book it came. So I’m putting it here for those times when I need it.

It is written not out of despair but out of hope, by which I mean not a simple giddy optimism but the belief that once you know what is right and what matters, you can get there with enough determination. What I have in mind is most likely captured by Vaclav Havel, who said “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.” -Azar Nafisi in The Republic of Imagination

Random thoughts

It is 9:20 pm. The girls are asleep. B is on his way home from aikido practice. I am in the living room. It is cold outside, and only slightly less cold inside.

I have this song stuck in my head, on constant repeat.

The dance is gorgeous. Seriously stunning. I’m getting a little sick of the song being stuck in my head.

As a birthday resolution I resolved to drink the recommended amount of water I’m supposed to drink every day. For me that’s about 120 oz. Some thoughts.

1. 120 oz is a heck of a lot of water.

2. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life drunk the recommended amount on a regular basis. It’s a wonder I’m still alive.

3. I usually don’t drink anywhere close to the recommended amount. Again, a wonder I’m alive.

D. How do people do this on a regular basis? Yesterday I literally felt like I was going to throw up, I was so full of water.

5. I have to pee constantly. It’s ridiculous. Is this whole drink lots of water thing really a toilet paper manufacturer conspiracy?

I’m currently reading a biography of Josephine Baker. It’s fascinating, but I feel like I’ve been reading it forever. I realize that I really only say that about biographies. Is it just that they encompass a whole life that it makes it seem like a lifetime that it takes to read one? I need to finish it because I have a book I have to read for book club next week. It’s All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Have you read it? I’ve heard really good things.

My parents are coming to visit in 2 weeks and I’m super excited. It’s the girls’ friends’ spring break this next week, and I’m totally being mean and making the girls do school so that we can take spring break when my parents are here. I’ve stored up two weeks of break that I had scheduled to take earlier and we’ll use them to go explore around with my parents. Not that we won’t explore on school days, but we can leave earlier in the day on vacation days. We have things to see in Tokyo, and then we’re going to explore Yokohama a bit, since we have been neglectful of that area and it’s really pretty cool.

I’ve been thinking about original art over the last couple of weeks, and I posed the question on facebook- what’s the most you would spend for original art. The answers were interesting, but one stood out- he said that if a high quality reproduction is available then he definitely wouldn’t spend the money on an original. It stands out because I’m completely opposite- if the original is available then I want that, not a copy. The exceptions are of course when the originals are $$$Texas, like David Mack collages. I want one of his so badly, but they are SO expensive. And rightly so. But still.

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I do have an original David Mack page from Kabuki: Circle of Blood, and it’s one of my prized possessions. I can’t wait until we’re in our own house and I can frame and put up all my art. It makes me happy to think about. I just realized that I’ve been collecting original art for almost 20 years. That’s a little insane.

Spring is beginning to make itself known around here, even though it’s still cold. Trees that were bare yesterday are sprouting leaves, and bright bursts of flowers are popping up in unexpected places. Once it’s full fledged spring, the colors will be everywhere, but now they’re just nice little surprises. We have lovely little daffodils in our back yard. We’re hoping that the cherry blossoms hold off just a skotch so they’re here when my parents are here.

I’m surprisingly delighted by the rumor that Katie Holmes and Jamie Foxx are dating. Surprisingly because I didn’t realize I really cared about either of them. I think of the two I care about him more.

www.gofugyourself.com, one of my favorite sites, is currently in the midst of Fug Madness- their version of March Madness- pitting the craziest/worst dressed/most sartorially challenged celebrities against each other in a battle to determine the Fug Champion. It is highly entertaining.

That’s all I’ve got. What’s going on with you?

 

Random thoughts:Or, Liveblogging my brain

Last night the weather prediction said that it was supposed to rain today around 11 am. When I woke up this morning, the sun was bright and the next door neighbor had her laundry hanging out, so I decided to risk it. (Pertinent facts: It’s supposed to rain for the next couple days, our dryer is not effective so we have to hang clothes out, B just came back from a week long trip so we have a decent amount of laundry to get done, and I trust my neighbor implicitly on all things laundry hanging related.) As it got closer to 11, the sky got darker and darker, and I began the game I like to call, How Long Can I Leave the Laundry Out? It is sister games with How Dry Will the Clothes Be? As it turns out, all but 1 pair of pants were dry by the time the rain started, so I think I win that round.

I’m planning our school curriculum for next year. It’s a bit early, but my parents will be visiting during April and May, which is when I would generally start working on it, and we’ll be traveling/busy/moving during the summer months and I want things all set and ready to go when the school year starts. That means preparation now. We’re continuing the artist and composer study that we’re doing this year, but without the guidance of a specific curriculum. I found that a lot of the activities that were provided with the composer curriculum that we’re working off of this year are just distracting to the girls and weren’t really serving a purpose. So I’m creating activities that will work better for them. We’ll be focusing on classical composers- Bach, Handel, Beethoven (“It’s under Beet oven in the index”), Mozart, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, someone else I can’t recall at this moment, George Gershwin, and John Williams. (I realize those last two aren’t classical.)  As I’ve been pulling out songs to use (I now have a very long playlist of 8 songs per artist) I have been so humbled as I listen to this gorgeous music. It’s just so very beautiful. And breathtaking to think that it came from someone’s mind. I really think that people who say they don’t like classical music either haven’t actually listened to any, or listened to the wrong stuff. Baroque stuff that’s heavy on the harpsichord I can see going a little sour on you. But how can this not make your heart sing at least a little?

For our artist study, we’re focusing on women and Black artists. This year we only had one woman artist in our study, and Tiny pointed out the inequity (be still my heart). I was going to do only women next year, but there aren’t nine women featured in the books we’re using as the spines of our study (to be accurate, there are, but we’ve done a couple of them already), so I figured we’d fill out the year with other non white male artists since we’ve already done lots of those.  I love that I have the freedom to impart values to the girls as they’re learning about things. They’re learning about art, yes, but they’re also learning that anyone can be an artist (and thus, THEY can be artists), and that it’s important to be purposeful and aware in our consuming of art. So we’ll be doing Mary Cassatt, Dorothea Lange, Faith Ringgold, Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, Paul Klee (our token white male, but Tiny will LOVE his work), Frida Kahlo, and Grandma Moses.

We’re also continuing our Shakespeare study, which means I have to sit down and put it together. That’s the one that takes the most work, because I’m creating it all. But it’s fun to put together and the girls enjoy it, so it’s worth it.

While putting together the songs for music I was reminded of Josh Groban (I’m using his version of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring along with a classical version). Somehow I’d forgotten he existed. Well, not that he existed, because I recently saw a thing about him and Kat Dennings dating, which DELIGHTS me to no end, because I adore her. Her rapport with Thor is far more entertaining than Natalie Portman’s. BUT ANYWAY. I’d forgotten that I really enjoy Josh Groban’s voice. So now I am listening to him. This song just came on and it’s my favorite.  (And I’d totally forgotten about the Corrs too! How does this happen?)

This is good, because I’ve been obsessively listening to Paloma Faith, and I’d gotten to the point where her songs were on constant repeat in my head, which gets a little old. But seriously, listen to this song, it’s SO good. The video has a parent advisory because there’s a skotch of a bare bum and a lot of rolling around on a bed. But it’s very pretty rolling around on a bed. I just realized that it also amuses me because she kind of looks like Billie Piper when she has the blonde hair.

Her pipes are just stunning- she can belt so cleanly.

I watched the 2008 version of Brideshead Revisited, finally. The book is in my top 5, so I had really high expectations. It suffers from the problem of many adaptations- there’s just too much to fit into a 2 hour movie, so a lot of the character development and plot get shorthanded. If you’ve read the book then you’re solid, but if you haven’t then I have to think it would be a bit perplexing. “Why in the world did he do that??” kind of moments. But visually- whoa nelly. It is breathtakingly gorgeous. The casting is perfection. I mean just look. So painful to watch two hours of these people, you know?

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Matthew Goode is Charles Ryder and plays his hopeful obsessive part to perfection. Hayley Atwell is Julia Flyte, and while this should not surprise me because she’s an actress and it’s her job, she plays her so drastically different than her brilliant portrayal of Peggy Carter in Agent Carter. Her Julia is fragile and struggling with her faith and her obligations and she’s just so so good. And Ben Whishaw. Oh my giddy aunt. He plays Sebastian Flyte, who is easily one of my very favorite characters ever, and he SLAYS him. The bravado covering deep insecurity, the fear, the faith, the terror of being a disappointment, the flaws, oh goodness. He’s just so good.

The story, if you don’t know it, is pretty straightforward. It’s set in that magic time period in England between the wars. Charles comes from a modest family and goes to Oxford. He meets Sebastian (who is riiiiiiiiiiiiich and whose family lives in the Brideshead manor of the title) and they tumble headlong into that combination of friendship and love that seemed to happen at men’s colleges a lot. Sebastian doesn’t want Charles to meet his family, wanting to keep him for himself, which turns out to be a good plan, because as soon as he meets Julia (Sebastian’s sister) he is smitten, and when he meets his mother she tries to conscript him into influencing Sebastian the way she wants. Lady Marchmain (played briliantly by Emma Thompson) is staunchly Catholic, worrying more about her children’s eternal happiness than their happiness in this life. That Catholicism runs up against Charles’ atheism and her children’s doubts. Charles makes some hurtful decisions in the direction of Julia, Sebastian makes some hurtful decisions in response, and it’s all more complicated and complex than the movie can sustain, but they do their darndest. Lady Marchmain’s cry of “I just want to see my children safe, and all they do is hate me!” is so heartbreaking.

I read the other day that the most effective scenes are those in which everyone is right (I want you to know that when I read that, I thought, “I should copy this because I’m going to want it at some future point”. But I didn’t. So just now I tried to go through all of the websites I would have looked, in order to find it. And I thought, “if only there was some way to go back and look at the history of all the websites I’ve looked at. Oh wait.” And I just went through my browser history to find it. You’re welcome.) It was Beau Willimon about House of Cards, a show I don’t watch. But he said,

David Fincher told me this maxim and it’s so true and one of the best writing lessons I’ve ever learned: In a great scene everyone is right. And I think they’re both right in that scene. When both people are right, but not right to each other, then you have conflict.

And that’s at the crux of the story of Brideshead Revisited, everyone thinks that they’re right. It’s such a compelling story, and you should read the book and watch the movie because they’re both glorious.

I’ve been struggling with reading lately, I think I’ve started 6 different books and not finished them. It’s gotten to the point that I’m not starting books that I really want to read because I know I’m in the wrong mood for them. I’ve been reading the new Catherynne Valente book for 3 days, which should tell you something, because I inhale those things in hours. (The book, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, is lovely, the problem is totally me.) I need to get over this because I just got new books early for my birthday, and there is a new Gail Carriger book coming out soon (Prudence (The Custard Protocol) ). My continued existence on this Earth depends upon me reading it as soon as it comes out.

I play a little game when I read the synopsis for books (or movies) that consists of seeing how many words into the blurb I get before I am definitively in or out. Gail Carriger’s books are always within the first sentence of the blurb. My friend was telling me about a book the other day and said, “I’m just giving you two words. Clones and opium.” and I was in. Sometimes it takes more than that- for example, the book  Our Ecstatic Days by Steve Erickson. The synopsis is this:

Our Ecstatic Days begins as the memoir of a young mother desperate to forget a single act, committed out of love and fear, that has changed forever the world around her. In the waning days of summer, a lake appears, almost overnight, in the middle of Los Angeles. In an instant of either madness or revelation, convinced that the lake means to take her small son from her, Kristin becomes determined to stop it. Three thousand miles away, on the eve of a momentous event, another young woman — with a bond to Kristin that she can’t even know — meets a mysterious figure who announces in the dark, “The Age of Chaos is here.”

Are you in, or out? I’m in, at “convinced that the lake means to take her small son”. The lake appearing is good, but her take on it is what makes it interesting. But then you have something like Aurorarama:

New Venice–the “pearl of the Arctic”–is a place of ice palaces and pneumatic tubes, of beautifully ornate sled-gondolas and elegant Victorian garb, of long nights and short days and endless vistas of crystalline ice. But as the city prepares for spring, it feels more like qarrtsiluni– “the time when something is about to explode in the dark.”  Meanwhile, a mysterious and ominous black airship hovers over the city like a supernatural threat–is New Venice about to come under assault, or is it another government ploy?

And I’m close at “the pearl of the Arctic” and fully in at “ice palaces and pneumatic tubes”. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Or The Rabbit Back Literature Society:

Only nine people have ever been chosen by renowned children’s author Laura White to join the Rabbit Back Literature Society, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back. Now a tenth member has been selected: a young literature teacher named Ella.  Soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual known as “The Game”? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura White’s winter party? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there once another tenth member, before her? Slowly, as Ella explores the Society and its history, disturbing secrets that had been buried for years start to come to light. . . .  In Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s chilling, darkly funny novel, The Rabbit Back Literature Society, praised as “Twin Peaks meets the Brothers Grimm” (The Telegraph), the uncanny brushes up against the everyday in the most beguiling and unexpected of ways.

I’m in solidly at “the Game”, and the rearranging words, secrets and comparison to Twin Peaks are just icing on the cake.

Conversely, it’s similarly innocuous things that put me “out”. For example:

Back in the run-and-gun days of the mid-1990s, when a young Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of an aggressive anti-crime unit known as the Wild Geese, he made headlines by accidentally shooting a ten-year-old boy while struggling with an angel-dusted berserker on a crowded street.

“Aggressive anti-crime unit” did it for me. Not interested.

Or:

On a searing August day, Melisandre Harris Dawes committed the unthinkable: she left her two-month-old daughter locked in a car while she sat nearby on the shores of the Patapsco River. Melisandre was found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity, although there was much skepticism about her mental state. Freed, she left the country, her husband, and her two surviving children, determined to start over.

Yeah, no. Out at locking the kid in the car, further out at starting life over.

U., a “corporate anthropologist,” is tasked with writing the Great Report, an all-encompassing ethnographic document that would sum up our era. Yet at every turn, he feels himself overwhelmed by the ubiquity of data, lost in buffer zones, wandering through crowds of apparitions, willing them to coalesce into symbols that can be translated into some kind of account that makes sense. As he begins to wonder if the Great Report might remain a shapeless, oozing plasma, his senses are startled awake by a dream of an apocalyptic cityscape.

Out at “corporate anthropologist”.

Those were all from books Amazon recommended for me based on previous purchases, so it’s not like I couldn’t possibly like them- that’s what makes it interesting to me. Just the question of what draws people in and what doesn’t.

Speaking of what draws me in, I’m super excited about the new Sherlock Holmes movie with Ian McKellen as an older Holmes. It looks so good.

I’m going to go work on curriculum. What’s going on with you?

Books I read this week: Feb. week 3 and 4

These are the books I read over the last two weeks.

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond is an intriguing little book. Jules Maroni is a high wire artist in a family of circus folk, and when an opportunity presents itself to take part in a prestigious new circus, she drags her strangely unwilling family into it. It turns out that another family, the Flying Garcias, are also part of the circus, and there is a long running feud between the two families. Strange, possibly magical things start happening and putting people’s lives in danger, and Jules and Remy Garcia have to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late. It’s clever and charming, but some pieces are a bit too on the nose- the main characters are from feuding families and are named Juliette and Romeo? But the parts about growing up in the circus are interesting, and the magic elements are well done.

Everything could end at any moment. The difference between life and death was one breath, one second, one act. And that meant that life was worth everything, every minute of every day.

Reading Lolita in Tehran is one of my absolutely favorite books of all time. So I was very excited to see a new book by Azar Nafisi, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books. In it, Nafisi takes a look at American literature, and how it expresses the American spirit. She also considers how we are tied to other readers all over the world through the process of reading and love of literature- as though we all live in the Republic of the Imagination. Both of these ideas were of special interest to me, having read The Fall of Language in the Age of English not that long ago. Nafisi looks at three novels- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and intersperses memories of her own throughout her analysis. I can’t possibly detail everything she covers, as she starts in one place and takes you, conversation like, through a hundred different ideas before you get to the end – just like in Reading Lolita in Tehran. So much of this book is highlighted. All I can say is that I highly recommend it.

The way we view fiction is a reflection of how we define ourselves as a nation. Works of the imagination are canaries in the coal mine, the measure by which we can evaluate the health of the rest of society.

I came to see my passion for books and reading as intimately connected to my life as a citizen, as a teacher, as a writer, and felt I had a responsibility to articulate and share it in a public manner.

What these societies lack- what citizens in Iran and China go to jail and are tortured for, what tyrants are afraid of when they talk about Western democracies- is not technology or scientific prowess but a culture of democracy, a culture that understands and respects freedom of expression, of ideas, of imagination.

Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran by Gohar Homayounpour was not what I wanted it to be. The premise of the book, at least in the synopsis, was that it would be a look at whether psychoanalysis is possible in Iran, given the deeply embedded cultural beliefs. What it is is a memoir of the author returning to Tehran and attempting to set up a practice, and her own culture shock and difficulties with patients. She raises fascinating questions that she then completely sidesteps and never answers. For example:

Greek mythology seems to be populated with myths about killing fathers, while it is impossible to escape the pattern of killing sons all over Iranian mythology.

This- this is interesting. And she talks about it for one page before going on to something else. There just wasn’t enough meat here for me.

The formatting on the Kindle version is also wonky, so that for a lot of the book, the indenting was wrong, and the margins kept getting smaller and smaller in a strange claustrophobic way.

The Book of Heaven: A Novel by Patricia Storace is fascinating. It reminds me of The Red Tent, in that it’s alternate tellings of some well known stories, but the tone is different. The premise is that Eve is being shown various constellations before she goes to the Garden, so that she can learn from the women behind the constellations. There are four stories, and two of them are based on Biblical stories (I won’t say which because part of the fun is the moment of realizing which story you’re in) and the fourth pulls in a couple of others. The stories are beautiful and sad, honest about the mistreatment of women through so much of history and the strength that they showed despite their treatment. Parts are difficult to read because the injustices are so great, but it’s important stuff to read and to think about. One of the best parts of the book is the “proverbs” at the end of each story.

Every man has prayed at some time in his life to a false God.

A blessing given at another’s expense is not from God.

One sees in God only what one worships.

Like Zeus, men pretend women are cows so that they can pretend to be gods.  Contempt for women is the expression of men’s secret scorn for God.

Rape is a kind of physics, steadily obeying laws of action and reaction. The rapist suffers from his own violence. His only relief is to transmit it to the object he is determined to harm as well as have; when he has replaced love in her with terror, and the lust to kill, he is satisfied. He has then raped in self-defense.

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks is incredible. Inspiring, harrowing, so so so good. Saks graduated at the top of her class at Oxford, got a law degree from Yale, became a tenured law professor at USC, won numerous academic accolades and awards, has written numerous books, and did it all while suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. That she’s brilliant is obvious- anyone who could take graduate classes as a freshman, maintain stellar grades, and routinely write the best papers her professors had read (her masters thesis report said that while the extent of the thesis was appropriate to a masters, the quality was equal to that of a doctorate), all while hiding the terrifying and destructive thoughts and hallucinations in her mind has to be. She details her thoughts while cogent and while psychotic, and her experiences being committed and treated in mental hospitals in England and the US. It’s sad (I just kept wanting to hug her) and utterly fascinating.

The part that I found the most interesting is that it wasn’t until years and years and years of treatment and medication and relapses that she actually realized that her brain worked differently than other people’s. She truly believed that everyone heard voices and was being controlled by an outside force and could kill people with their minds and saw hallucinations, they just hid it better than she did.  She truly felt that if she could just control her behavior better, she would be normal like everyone else. It wasn’t until a new anti-psychotic was created and she tried it that her brain worked “properly” and she realized that most of the world wasn’t constantly holding back a constant stream of psychosis.

This view into someone else’s mind is invaluable, I think. To get a glimpse of a thought process so different, and still so human. And her descriptions of her treatment are vital- she was rushed to the ER with what turned out to be a brain hemorrhage and was sent home as soon as the intake doctors saw her schizophrenia diagnosis because “she’s just having another episode”. A lot of the disgraceful treatment she was given happened in the 1970s, so I hope that things are better now, but remembering back to All My Puny Sorrows, which was based on the author’s actual experience, I wonder if it is. So often she talks about procedures being done or drugs being administered that are clearly for the convenience of the doctors and nurses, and I wonder how difficult and hopeless it must feel to be a psychiatric doctor.

So many questions, so many thoughts, so many things to think about. Such a good book. I highly, highly recommend it, with the warning that it’s intense reading, but so worth it.

“Yes.” I was desperate. I held my own life in my hands, and it was suddenly too heavy to be left there.

When you’re really crazy, respect is like a lifeline someone’s throwing you. Catch this and maybe you won’t drown.

This is a classic bind for psychiatric patients. They’re struggling with thoughts of wanting to hurt themselves or others, and at the same time, they desperately need the help of those they’re threatening to harm. The conundrum: Say what’s on your mind and there’ll be consequences; struggle to keep the delusions to yourself, and it’s likely you won’t get the help you need.

When you have cancer, people send flowers; when you lose your mind, they don’t.