What an eight days

Was still awake when K’s alarm went off at five. Ugh. From studying maps of LA and Oroville (to track the progress of the fires), to dispiriting ongoing voter suppression news (it is just the GOP norm now), to the firing of Sessions, I found myself spacing out about appointments and social engagements this week and wondering what overwhelm morphs into. Not despair, I hope.

(Not despair, I hope?)

And what of Mueller? Was he strategic enough to withstand this level of obstruction? Will we be denied? Reading the first linked article below constituted a highlight this week because it credibly outlines why Mueller is likely poised to finish his investigation.

And who thinks our depraved President only went to Paris to meet with Putin? The international shame of him provides a whole other order of gloom.

So I went to a protest. The “red line” one. Not the one in Boston because I was tired. Too much trouble for democracy? Well, maybe. The Needham gathering, though small, offered a shared sense of outrage and worry and could be reached by car without hassle. Get well cards to Ruth Bader Ginsburg were circulated.

Tuesday I worked the polls. Our very civilized polls. It was busy — I gather from old timers, busier than normal.

A pleasant (for a change) visit to Salem came at the end of the week — very little traffic and a cleaner apartment than usual helped (PCA Maria #1 is back, to our shared relief). Doing the Times puzzle together was good, too (the sharing of it. Not this week’s puzzle!)

The North Shore visit came a week after one to K’s father in the nursing home where he is safe and well cared for and nevertheless restless and lonely.

Raking leaves provides ballast. Sanity. Tidying a closet, I can handle. Deciding which project to finish, not so much.

Here’s what I am looking forward to (and then I want to hear what YOU are looking forward to):

News that Grace and family are safe and their property untouched by fire;

The kids coming home for Christmas;

The first snowfall;

The indictments of Trump’s family and Sean Hannity;

The lentil soup I’m gonna make tonight;

Reading the next four hours and 28 minutes (gotta love kindle!) of “A Gentleman in Moscow,” which I am really enjoying.

Reading three articles about the use of dialogue in fiction;

A time when politics does not enter the dialogue here.

How about you?

Article by Ben Wittes: It’s Probably Too Late to Stop Mueller.

P.S. because of the overwhelm, I didn’t finish the draft post entitled “Savor a Little” in which I intended to lay out the impressive Democratic wins from the midterms — all there is to celebrate and feel terrific about. So, I’ll just leave you with this Washington Post article.

Three good books

Finished a debut novel last week called, “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.” Not sure why Reese Witherspoon called it “incredibly funny” because it relates the experience of a thirty year old woman with severe PTSD who suffers a breakdown. The character sometimes makes wry observations or off-beat statements, but they don’t rise to the level of even cringe humor, never mind hilarity.

Eleanor Oliphant is an unlikable protagonist at the novel’s outset. Having built defenses reliant on rigid adherence to rules, she is smug, anti-social, and arrogant. Until a guy from work takes her on as a friend, she seems doomed to a lonely and essentially vapid life, and we don’t really care.

But then, a series of circumstances loosens something inside our heroine, causing her armor to slip and soon we are routing for her, cheering on her recovery while at the same time gaining more and more details about an unimaginably awful childhood (with a surprise twist at the end).

Too often in tales of recovery, the healing process is given short shrift. Not here. The author provides grit and descriptions of credible growth. Oliphant’s recovery stands as something more than a literary band aid in service of a happy-ish ending.

“Happy-ish.”  Like that?

A worthwhile, relatively quick, read.


Skip the following if you read my captions on Instagram.

The next book, “Song Yet Sung,” by James McBride, is another quick and worthwhile read. McBride creates tons of suspense for a historic novel. There are really great characters, like the Wooly Man (a huge African American living wild in the swamps). the Dreamer (enslaved clairvoyant making a run for it), Patty (a ruthless slave catcher, owner and trader) and Gimp (another slave catcher with notorious skills who comes out of retirement to catch the Dreamer). There is flight, child theft, secrecy, hope and corruption. The story is vividly set along the Chesapeake Bay. As a side benefit to following a captivating tale, I learned about the oyster economy, ‘watermen,’ and was treated to visual details of the unique boggy, watery landscape.

One of my favorite parts of the story is McBride’s description of the intricate, secretive and effective ways that the enslaved communicated with one another.

James McBride wrote another piece of historic fiction more recently in 2013, “The Good Lord Bird,” which won the National Book Award. I think I liked “Song Yet Sung” better.

Another prize-winning novel featuring enslaved characters is Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.” I won’t comment on the story so much, because there are so many reviews online, but, I heard the author speak a few months back in Brookline, Mass., and thought I’d share some of my notes.

First you should know, Whitehead was hilarious — I mean, seriously funny — which maybe shouldn’t have surprised me, but did. He started with some comments on how he got into writing, noting that he’d have ‘preferred to be a sickly child, but it didn’t work out that way.’ He was not into sports growing up, but loved comic books and Stephen King, making his first literary ambition, apparently, to write ‘the black Salem’s Lot.’He offered a lot of sober, self-deprecating biography about rejection, noting how early on in the life of a writer, “No one likes you. No one wants to read your crap.” After taking on the subject of slavery, he naturally picked up Toni Morrison. “Thirty pages into ‘Beloved,'” he said, “I said to myself, ‘Fuck. I’m screwed.'” But then he noted that there will always be someone more talented and smarter than you that has already done it — not a reason to stop.

Before taking questions from the audience, he answered a couple that are frequently posed. The first is: “why another novel about slavery?” His first response was funny: “I guess I could’ve written about upper middle class whites who feel sad sometimes, but there are a lot of those books.”

More seriously, Whitehead pointed out that slavery lasted for a couple of centuries; World War II lasted for six years. No one asks, “why another novel about World War II?”  There were two movies about DUNKIRK alone last year. So, let that sink in.

To charges that slavery stories must be told in a historically factual manner, he said he felt no responsibility to the reader to tell the story a certain way. “I’m not a trustworthy person,” he said, “but I trust my reader to tell it’s fiction.”

Apparently, this trust is not always warranted for he has been asked on more than one occasion if there really was an actual underground railroad (in the novel, there is).

He defended his approach by saying: “I won’t stick to facts, but I’ll stick to the truth.” The construct of a physical underground railroad, apparently, facilitated his conversation with history.

Three GREAT books!

What have you read lately that really impressed you — anything?
[no links at the moment, sorry! have some glitchy issues with the internet at the moment].

 

Blaze of color

Look how lit this patch of woods is! A blustery rainy day. They’re calling it a Nor’easter but it’s not much of a storm.

I listened to “Gaslit Nation” while out with Finn. Came home and hung some more winter curtains.

Friends are coming over to write postcardstovoters in an hour. Solidarity in action. Today: Phil Bredesen of Tennessee and Stacey Abrams of Georgia, again.

Meanwhile, yesterday I went back to that empty house. Went upstairs this time and yes it felt slightly transgressive. A little spooky. Another post for another day — maybe Halloween?

Some days

Some days are like this: filled with a sense of vulnerability and gloom. A friend used to call them my “Eeyore moods.”

I have some idea why today. The pipe bombs. The unavoidable reality of having a white supremacist President with legions of ill informed but well armed followers. The way the media conspires to amplify the negative and repeat the lies, always at the expense of the Democrats.

It didn’t help that what I wrote in class today provoked almost nothing but comments about being confused — even though comments are supposed to be restricted to the positive (I get it. My style tends to the impressionistic — my heroes being Woolf, Kincaid, Faulkner and not Chandler or Hemingway. And there are folks in the class who don’t know any of the characters and others who have met them but don’t remember them. Plus, and this is a biggie, having revised earlier writings so intently for two seasons now, I have a real sense of how preliminary these class sketches are).

Still, last week I “got” something I can use pretty much word for word and I’d always prefer to blow people away.

And then there’s the way the two groups I’m in have formed external bonds that aren’t entirely exclusive but are noticeably less vibrant in my direction. Noticing how I need to update my availability.

Plus there is K’s travel schedule. I think he may end up having been gone for more than 25% of the time in 2018 — a lot of that weekends.

So. Keeping going with chicken soup (literal chicken soup), walks with Finn, postcards for Phil Bredesen of TN (he’s running for Corker’s seat) and a new utterly absorbing Netflix series, “The Bodyguard.” And quilting.

Oh. And then there’s taking pleasure in gifts that come in the mail. This sweet little pop up notebook, from Michelle. Thank you, Michelle.

Gloomy Sunday

Oh but look what awaits on the glossy sidewalk.

Blue for the NYTimes. Translucent for The Boston Globe. There will be a fire again, postcardstovoters scribbled, and a roast chicken for dinner.

During yesterday’s hours in the studio, two old pieces caught my eye. I may work on them some today, too.

Happy Sunday, wherever you are.

Collaging to the news

Soul Collage, when you listen to back podcasts of the news, can’t help but feature the vulnerable.

This next one came in response to a story that keeps coming back, not unlike a virulent STD. I’ve included a close up to make the reference clear, but since the script is still small, let me tell you. After one line, find penned two words, “altar boys.”

And because Halloween is about a week away, this next one.

I also spent a considerable amount of time clearing about six square feet of floor. Wish there was a “before” picture but you’ll just have to take my word for it. The recycling bin will be full this week.

Question: what are you guys doing to stay sane in these last days leading up to the midterms? I’ve got my weekly call with my Indivisible group and postcards. Tomorrow a friend and I will hit 200.

A fire is nice, too.