Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just a Happy Little Post

Whew! That was a heavy last post. Thank you all for your lovely and insightful comments. I half expected something a little harsher - and that's what traumatic conditioning does to you - so it was quite uplifting to have you all at my back. Have I told you recently, just how wonderful I think all of my readers are? Your feedback sustains, delights, and amazes me on a regular basis. I love ya'll!

And with that segue way, so very reminiscent of what my husband sounds like after a few drinks, here we are at the drinking portion of the program:

I think it was well past this point last year when Bea and I started our Saturday afternoon cocktails series, and no doubt, you've wondered if we've climbed aboard the wagon, what with the dearth of liquor pictures. Fear not gentle readers, (does anyone else here love Miss Manners as much as I do?) the Captain has turned off the no drinking, no smoking (what do you do? Adam Ant - Gack) sign and you may now move about the cabin, drink in hand.

We've been on a red wine kick lately, because Honey hears it's good for the ole ticker. Bea has always been a red fan, so I've been letting her lead us in selecting varietals (Oooh! Tea and scones! Very grand wording for such a cheap bouteille!). Usually a glass of wine is enough to give me a splitting headache, but the Pinot Noirs have been a delightful exception, so glug, glug, glug, ya'll!I think my drinking companions might not be enjoying the photo-op; note the knife being held like it's a middle finger. This is a direct result of Honey hanging out with the men in my family, for whom no picture is complete without an obscene finger gesture, or at the least, an unzipped fly. In a rare fit of practicality, Bea has actually dug a coat out of the closet and put it on. This is big people - do you have any idea how hard it was to get her to wear shoes, much less put a coat on? The girl's a damn hippie! And on an unrelated note, I was out walking the other day and spotted this little feral cat. I love the eyeliner on him/her (I think it's a her - the head is pretty small for a feral male), and with that coat, this could almost be one of those African wildcats that the domestic breed is supposed to be descended from. She's watching the boys intently, which is how I was able to take this shot at all. I guess a herd of boy elephants can be a good thing, but you didn't really hear that from me, okay? Ahh, an idyllic moment! This is one of those moments you really want to take a picture of, just so you can wave it in their faces later, when they're fighting like savage dogs, and say, "See? You do too like each other!" Kids...woof. Is it five o'clock yet?

I've been woefully slack in my reading this week (of blogs; I did finish an Ursula LeGuin novella and series of short stories, and started reading Dr. Dolittle to the boys - all three boys. That husband of mine...!) but I am determined to get caught back up with all of you.
But first, I have to go to art class with the fourth graders and finish my face mug! It's a little embarassing how excited I am to do that, especially since I've been peddling books to kids for three days at the school book fair - you'ld think I'd be sick of all those kids, but nope!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sowing Different Seeds

Maggie's new site dedicated to domestic violence has me looking down rabbit holes that go deep down into the past.

I don't really consider myself to be a victim of abuse, though I guess, technically, I am. I grew up in the days when it was considered perfectly okay to spank a child, or yell at them, presumably carte blanche. We were spanked, slapped across the face, told we were liars, even when we told the truth, told we were stupid, and none of that seemed excessive, compared to other kids we knew, and their family life. The thing that seemed really out of hand, really frightening, was the fighting between my parents.

My father was a walking powder keg of rage in those days, and my mother never bothered to read the signs before she jumped all over him, only to lie down in the face of his rage and allow one of us to bear the brunt. It was a toxic combination, and we learned early to disappear when they began their dance. Their fighting caused us to draw closer together, to depend on each other, and I think that was our salvation, but all that rage still took its toll on each of us individually. They crippled us with their words of worthlessness, they convinced us we could only fail at whatever we tried, so why try at all? Even worse, they pitted us against each other with their petty favoritism, undermining what little strength and comfort we had with the lure of being that exception, the favorite.

As a child of eight or nine, I would quietly escape into the silent dark of night, and looking up to the stars, I would pray earnestly for my real people to come back and find me, to rescue me from this place that surely, I didn't belong in.

It was a different flavor of teen angst to realize that this was where I came from, where I belonged, what I was destined for. Might as well indulge in teen-aged drinking, and hey, it's the 70s, let's experiment with a few drugs. Who cares if you fail school? They sure didn't, so why should I?

For a really long time I screwed up everything I ever tried to do in my life, because that's what little self-fulfilling prophecies do. I can't say that I've turned my life around 100%, because I don't think I'll ever feel like that's the case, but I did make a conscious choice to not emulate my parents' disastrous dynamic in my own marriage. And when I became a parent, the shoe, so to speak, was on my foot, and I was damned if my children were going to grow up feeling only conditionally loved, or lacking in potential, or frightened of their parents. I know I'm not a perfect parent - is there really such a thing? I lose control of my temper, I yell at my kids, I make bad calls; but I also apologize when I'm in the wrong, and allow them to voice how they feel without censure. We have a rule in this house: no name calling, and it applies to everyone. Respect is a two-way street - I can't expect it from my children if I don't practice myself.

I can't change or rectify every mistake I've ever made in my life - there is no going back. I may never recover belief in myself, I may always be damaged internally, but I can refuse to inflict that same fate upon someone else. I can stop the cycle. I can't change my parents, but I can try to understand them, and recognize that they were once undamaged too. I can focus on their good qualities and ask them to recognize their negative ones when they surface. Sometimes they cling to their denial, but other times they surprise me with their open regret and desire to rectify. It's rare, I'll grant you, but it does happen, and there is great healing to be had from those moments.

There is a shift of power that comes, when your parents reach their geriatric years. In many ways we become the parent to their aging child. There is a temptation to pay back those childhood debts, in some sort of twisted tit for tat, but whatever karmic debt they have accrued, it is my hope that I will be a better, kinder parent than they were.

Appended to add: I thought about this post a lot; whether to write anything at all, how much to say, how others might react to this. I tossed and turned all night, fretting it. I'm not happy with how I've skimmed this topic, but I don't feel that I can be more in-depth; partly because it isn't just my traumatic childhood, partly because I have dealt with a lot of my anger, and I'm not estranged from my parents or family. Not yet. I sent this post to Bea, with the title, "Is This going To Ruin Christmas?" She agreed that there is a choppiness to this post, a series of omissions to the tale, a glossing over of the darker details, but she also agreed that there is good reason for that. It isn't just my tale, but more saliently, I don't consider myself to be a victim, primarily because what I have written here has been said aloud, to my parents, my siblings. We are not a family of well-kept secrets, rather, the dynamic might better be compared to running the gauntlet. My aim in writing this is not to dredge up a lot of past flotsam, but to point out that, just like Cary did, in the DV post, that abuse occurs everywhere, we all carry scars. It's what we do with those scars that makes the difference.

And I'm still wondering if I've explained myself fully.

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Head in a Book, or Two or Three

Bea has been reading the Twilight series, by Stephanie Meyers, which means, cheap bastard that I am, I'm reading them too. I tore through the first three, bitching the whole way, and now I'm waiting for Bea to finish the fourth. She's enjoyed them far more than I have, but I'm a book whore, so I'll read anything. It's taken until the fourth book for her to get tired of the series, whereas I was saying, "Oh, come on!" after the first, although it didn't make me put them down; you know, the whole book whore thing again.

Maybe I'm just too old to relate to a teen novel, although I never felt that way about the Harry Potter series, and I just reread several of the Little House books for discussion with my 5th grade reading group, and my only beef with Laura Ingalls Wilder is that she never really explores the language, she simply narrates. But it's a fascinating slice of life to have lived through, and it's meant for young readers, so I let her off the hook.

Maybe it's because I just re-read Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is one of the most lyrical novels I've ever read. He weaves the lives of his characters, with their diverse weaknesses, needs, and fears, through a spellbindingly creepy storyline. He neatly and concisely brings the separate parts together, wraps them up and places a bow of profound philosophy on top. I didn't have the same reaction to his short stories, especially the space-themed ones, which reflect the pessimism of the Cold War period they're written in, but reading SWTWC is sublimely different. I find myself re-reading passages aloud, because they're so beautiful and poetic, I want to caress my ears with them again and again, like sliding a fine silk scarf over your head, just for the feel of it.

But back to Twilight and why I wasn't impressed. This is a four book series that really should have been only two or three. (I haven't read book four, so I can't say anything about it - yet!) I get the distinct impression the publisher played a part in deciding how long this series should be; you know, so they could sell more books, make more movie deals, maybe a line of clothing and backpacks. It's not a new concept: I told Bea how this series reminded me of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, which was written as a serial for a magazine. He got paid by the word, so he wrote "noble savage" and reiterated Tarzan's innate superiority over the natives ad nauseum, because it made the novel spin out longer, and he made more money.

The main characters, Bella and Edward, go back and forth over whether they should even have a relationship for two freaking books. It was akin to reading three seasons of Grey's Anatomy scripts; you know, the push-me-pull-you that defines Meredith and McDreamy's relationship, the reason I gave up watching that show. They can't ever make up their minds and stick with it! I had problems with Bella from the beginning, though. She tells us right off that she's a super responsible person who's always had to be the parent for her dipshit of a mom, but we never see any evidence of that responsible part of her character, other than handling dinner for her dad, so why did the author even put that in there? She also makes Bella out to be this major klutz, which I guess is supposed to make the trumped-up stories she tells her dad throughout the books more plausible, but I can't help but wonder why any vampire would find her remotely attractive, if she's that ungainly, and what does it serve, in terms of pushing the story forward, to make her a loose cannon physically in gym class?

Introducing of a trio of "bad" vampires right near the end of the first novel to act as the catalyst seemed clumsy, and tacked on, and it didn't improve my feelings about it to have that trio serve as the catalyst for the next two books. I call it "Vampyre ex Machina", and it's as flimsy a device now as it was in Greek tragedies. It's one of my arguments for why the first two novels should have been condensed into one much tighter volume. For a bunch of folks who've been around for over a hundred years (some much longer) they sure can't put one and one together. It took until the end of the third novel for the vampires to realize the same damn "bad" vampire was behind all the mayhem in that novel - you think maybe becoming a vampire does something to their gray matter? That they're mentally challenged vampires? No, it's just sloppy writing.

I can also see the point many feminists are making about this novel, how Bella is a terrible role model for young girls. She really is. Okay, so she and her boyfriend are chaste, but their relationship is anything but equal, and she's the one who allows that. Phrases like, "he pulled her into his lap; he held her face in his hand forcing her to look at him" were written so many times in this series, that I swear to god, you could find something to that effect on almost every page. Bella is a walking advertisement for abuse, and there is nothing in her sketchily drawn past that would account for her masochistic tendencies. I feel nothing but exasperation and irritation for this character - she is selfish, self-pitying, thoughtless, irresponsible, and for the life of me, I can't understand what anyone would see in her. Sure, those are all traits common to the average teen, but the author made it a point to say she was otherwise, the motivation of which is still unclear to me. I would strongly caution anyone with a daughter reading this to have a serious discussion about relationships, and use Bella as the prime example of what NOT to do.

So now that I've gotten all my negativity over this series out, let me point out some of the positive aspects of these books.

I think Twilight's premise is intriguing; the idea that there would be vampires who didn't want to be monsters on a perpetual serial killing rampage throughout the centuries is a fresh and original concept. Anne Rice deals with it briefly in her books, in the character of Louis, but she presents him as an aberration, and something of an outcast. I like the way Meyers gives us insight into how this clan of vampires became "civilized" via Edward's story of how Carlisle becomes a vampire. I like the way she introduces the vampires to us, within an old Indian legend. In fact, the Quileute Indians and their culture form the strongest, and most plausible parts of these novels. Even when the Quileutes reveal their supernatural response to the vampires' proximity by turning into werewolves it isn't hard to suspend my disbelief. The character Jacob Black is, from the very beginning, the best developed and most identifiable character of the entire series.

The introduction of the vampire clan Volturi in Twilight is expanded upon in the second book, New Moon, although I would have liked to see them enter the story a little sooner than right near the end, employing Meyer's favorite "Vampyre ex Machina" formula yet again, resulting in another seemingly hasty and ill-conceived ending. The transformation of Jacob into a werewolf is probably the best part of book two, as he continues to be the best drawn, and most likeable character in the series.

The third book in this series, Eclipse, is the very best of them all, and it's because the characters we've been reading about for two previous novels, finally gain some history, giving their actions clarity and motivation. The Quileute legends also deepen and expand, as does our understanding of the werewolf pack. Even Edward, a painfully old fashioned boy with quite the stick up his butt, loosens up and acts like less of a tyrant, and more like a man deeply in love. Eclipse benefits from much a much tighter storyline - it's action packed, and the story moves along much more smoothly and enjoyably, making me think the author either finally hit her stride with this one, or this was the one novel the publisher stopped trying to fragment for monetary purposes.

The film Twilight did a better job of streamlining the story, and defining the characters than the books did. The director chose to show early in the film vampires attacking normal people, allowing us to speculate who those vampires are, and opening the door for the insertion of the "bad" vampires who show up near the end. The film also downplayed Bella's responsible allegations, allowing her to simply be an average teen, and only briefly touched on her clumsiness. Edward was far more likeable in the film; we're given glimpses into his motivations, so he doesn't come off nearly as cold or pompous as he does in print. The cinematography was beautiful, and the eerie other-worldliness beauty of the vampires was perfectly rendered. The soundtrack will no doubt be de riguer for all teen girls, and it wasn't half bad-sounding to an old broad either. If you're on the fence about reading this series, go see the film - it takes less time and delivers a neater punch, in my estimation.

But then, like I said, I might just be too old to really appreciate this series.

I think Gypsy did a review on this a few months back, and not having read the series, I wasn't able to give an opinion. Having just gone back to re-read what she said, I see we're on exactly the same page, which doesn't surprise me - Gypsy is like Buddha, only a lot sexier!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Waiting For The Shoe To Drop

"I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains,
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains"
-Closer to Fine, Indigo Girls

And so far, I don't have strep or mono. So that's good news, but I'm still waiting to hear about dying from a terminal disease, via all the blood tests they're (the doctor's office)going to run. The Professor (my 1st born) has been sick with a sore throat and fever this week, which apparently is sweeping the public schools in this area. I'm wondering if my recent brush with death wasn't this virus; so does that mean I'm the girl who cried "Wolf!", or rather, "I'm dying, can you make dinner?"

Maybe, unintentionally. I could still be dying, you know.

So to while away the hours, waiting by the phone, I decided to edit some pictures I took while up in Virginia last month. Bea, Ms. Q, my sister-in-love, and myself all headed up to the Tidewater area to stay at the flawless B&B known as Bea's parents' house. It's a gorgeous place, right on the river, and just watching the sunset with a glass of Pinot Noir in hand was exactly what the doctor ordered.

I ran some of my favorites through the colored pencil filter in Photoshop and put them up here side by side, so you can see the transformation. I love that filter!
Well, at least I tried to place them side by side - Blogger doesn't always do what it's told, as you can see!

If you want to see some more awesome pictures of this part of the world, check out The Bantering Bibliocrat's month of photos going on right now. I've always loved and expected a certain dry wit from Gene, but his pictures, his way of looking at things is just wonderful. Check him out, and tell him Becky sent you!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You Think, You Worry

"You worry, you think - it's a vicious cycle." -Victor/Victoria

As my appointment with a real doctor gets closer (as opposed to the Doc-In-The-Box variety, which could well have been imaginary - I was hanging with both the Care and the Swear Bears that day, remember?) I find my stomach unexpectedly performing gymnastics routine, in spite of the fact that the Olympics were last winter. Dude!

I'm always afraid of going to the doctor's office. I'm paranoid that somehow they can look at me and see every bad thing I've ever done; at least the ones printed on my face, the rest are tattooed elsewhere, like on my ass, or in my lungs, and they know.

(I'm sorry, did I not mention I was completely insane today? My bad - yeah, uh, heads up, the girl is kind of batshit today, m'kay?)

I tell myself it's all going to be fine, even if it isn't fine. Bea tells me the same thing, when I'm on the phone with her, telling her how my stomach did a perfect split in it's routine the other day.

Bea: It's going to be fine, stop worrying.
Me: I know it's going to be fine, you don't have to reassure me that it's going to be fine. You don't have to say anything, you know.
Bea: Jesus! So, what am I supposed to say? Nothing? Just let the silence hang and fester?
Me: Yeah, something like that. Or tell me a joke - something!

She's so patient with my batsa crap, but then it is a two-way street, isn't it Bea?
Isn't it?
(Damn, I forgot she was on hiatus from the blogosphere. I'm just in here, talking to myself. Neat. Does this post make my ass look nuts? And please, don't be honest!)