Review: Grace (Eventually)

Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott
Grace (Eventually)
Anne Lamott

Title: Grace (Eventually)
Author: Anne Lamott
Published: 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59448-942-6
Publisher: Riverhead Books

If I listed every quote which resonated with me in this book, I would be quoting the entire thing.

Anne Lamott’s writing speaks to me.  Her complete honesty, no doubt.  The way she speaks her truth about her life.  The words she strings together to make me understand how she feels.  I recognize myself in some of what she writes about.

That scared, mixed up woman who can barely keep herself going, much less be expected to do anything else.  The woman who panics for what appears to be no good reason to others, but is a very good reason to her.  Like, “OHMYGAWD, I have no money, I can’t buy the groceries I want, I’m going to have to move my books to the underpass, I’m going to DIE.  The world is going to END!”  Yup, that’s me.

Of course, in my clearer moments I know being poor doesn’t mean the end of the world or anything dire.  It just means no money, and reminding myself that the universe is constantly taking care of me, even when it’s hard to see through the panicked fog.

Her junk food binges in the essay titled “The Muddling Glory of God?”  Frequent flyer here.  Her fraught and confusing relationship with her mother in “Dandelions?”  I still have the scars.

And while I teared up over Anne’s life and the way my heart hurt for both of us, I keep thinking, “She lived through it.  She got to a good place in her life where she can afford groceries and lives in a nice home and has a wonderful community around her.”  I can live through it too.

She makes me think.  And then she makes me giggle as I think about how I might also panic because my dog ran off out of sight on our walk.  Although I think I’d be more worried about the rattlesnakes.

And while I was reading, I was reminded how oddly grace works in my life.  How, really, it’s not so bad.  How when I’m not paying attention and wallowing around in my own mire, grace comes along and does something unexpected.  Then I feel all right and ready to keep going.

If I could ask Anne Lamott one thing, it would be if she would be my life sponsor.  One of my tribe to hold me when my face is red from crying and snot is running over my lips.  One who will take my hand, look me straight in the eye, and say, “You will get through this.”

Her books have literally been life changing for me.  bird by bird taught me about the discipline of writing, of being creative, every day.  Whether I want to or not.  Grace (Eventually) reminds me to wait patiently for the grace which envelops me and takes care of me.  Reading Anne Lamott is like meeting a new, old friend with whom I could share an afternoon talking about the deep things in life, while cracking each other up.

Review: Familiar Spirits

Familiar Spirts by Leonard Tourney
Familiar Spirits
Leonard Tourney

Title: Familiar Spirits
Author: Leonard Tourney
Series: Matthew and Joan Stock – #3
Published: 1984
ISBN: 0-345-34372-7
Publisher: Ballantine Books

New words:  Termagant, quiddity

New terms:  Geneva Bible, witch of Endor

Favorite Quote:

... his manhood celebrated by the monstrous codpiece he wore. (p. 12)

Nits:  As in Low Treason, Matthew Stock is described again as Argus of the hundred eyes.  Not only do I doubt the reference as one someone of Matthew Stock’s class would recognize, the use of that description in a second book makes me cringe a little.  It smacks of either laziness, or “aren’t I a clever writer?”  And why does the magistrate go nameless the entire book?

Matthew and Joan Stock are back on home turf in Familiar Spirits.  The town of Chelmsford is caught up in witch fever.  The opening chapter is a description of the hanging of three people, one of them a witch.  Tourney gets this atmosphere right, describing the delight of the spectators and the business-like demeanor of the gaolers and hangman.

Being accused of witchcraft was a nasty business, a veritable catch-22.  To prove you weren’t a witch you would have to go through trials which would surely kill you, if you survived then you were definitely a witch and would be hanged (or burned).  Horrible stuff.

And, as is usual in witchcraft trials, suspicion falls upon everyone associated with the witch.  Especially after Ursula’s master dies all of a sudden, after her ghost has been seen in the window by the master’s wife.

Then, the master’s wife’s sister and her family are accused.  A mob forms to drive the witches out, etc. etc. etc.

Matthew takes nothing at face value and is perplexed at the ghostly sightings of Ursula, the death, and the burning of the barn behind the master’s home where Ursula was purported to have conducted her tricks.

Superstitious townspeople are all calling for righteous living to be returned to with a speedy witch trial and hangings at the end.  Only Matthew is unconvinced.  Not because he doesn’t believe in witches, but rather, because the testimony given in Ursula’s trial makes no coherent sense.

Against the wishes of the townspeople, including the aldermen, Matthew continues to investigate.   What he turns up is more sinister than witchcraft, and does not come from Satan.  One man’s cover-up kills two more innocent people and nearly gets his wife and in-laws hanged.

Although Tourney’s pseudo-Elizabethan continues to bother me, and this is a fairly straightforward whodunnit, I am still charmed by Matthew Stock, and his wife Joan.  In addition, there is the kind and stubborn Jane Crispin who speaks up in court for herself.  Something no woman would have done, would be allowed.  In fact, she states that she is doomed either way, so why shouldn’t speak up and address the absurdities of the witch trial?  Especially, the “specialist” who brings his assistant along because the boy has himself once been possessed by demons and can point out those who are also possessed.

I suppose these absurdities are no more absurd than some of the political yammerings we suffer through today.

Review: Low Treason

LowTreason
Low Treason
Leonard Tourney

Title: Low Treason
Author: Leonard Tourney
Series: Matthew and Joan Stock – #2
Published: 1984
ISBN: 0704324334
Publisher: Quartet Books

100 Pages a Day:  Part OnePart Two

See also:
The Player’s Boy is Dead  – Review

High treason they call it in the law.  They would with more reason call it low treason, for a man must stoop low – indeed, must crawl upon his belly like a serpent – to practice it.
(Robert Cecil, p. 211)

Leonard Tourney’s Elizabethan mysteries featuring Matthew and Joan Stock of Chelmsford, England are slight books.  Of the two I’ve read, whodunit has been fairly obvious from early in the book, the protagonists must provide proof so justice can be served.

In Low Treason, the Stocks’ son-in-law tell them his brother has gone missing.  William Ingram has received a letter from Thomas’ employer, a jeweler in London, stating that Thomas has left for adventures on the sea.

Knowing this to be untrue, Matthew sets off to London to visit the jeweler and find out what’s really happened.  Shortly after he leaves Chelmsford, Joan answers her door and finds a filthy and nearly naked Thomas asking for Matthew.

After sorting out that Thomas’ life has been threatened and he was nearly killed, Joan packs her bags and heads for London to apprise Matthew of the new situation.

Once they are both in London, it becomes obvious that the plot against Thomas is based on the possibility of his having overheard something which puts the jeweler’s plot against England with Spain in jeopardy.  Because Matthew and Joan have also stumbled onto this information, their lives are in danger as well.

They are arrested on trumped up charges and sent to Newgate Prison, a horrible place which makes the American prison system seem fair and just in comparison.   During service in the prison chapel, an explosion goes off setting the chapel on fire and allowing the Stocks to escape, despite the intentions of their enemy and his bomb.

Matthew has a very powerful friend, Sir Robert Cecil, chief minister and spymaster for Queen Elizabeth I.  It is Cecil, working with Matthew and Joan, who puts plans in motion to catch the jeweler and prove he is plotting with Spain against England.

I enjoy reading these books as a break from some of the heavier fare in my stacks, but find Tourney’s pseudo-Elizabethan style uneven. and some of the plot devices annoyingly convenient.  Nonetheless, Matthew and Joan are sweet, lovely characters who stay true to their convictions and their love for each other.  They prove whodunit and go back to their simple lives in Chelmsford.

100 Pages a Day: Low Treason Part Two

LowTreason
Low Treason
Leonard Tourney

Title: Low Treason
Author: Leonard Tourney
Series: Matthew and Joan Stock – #2
Published: 1984
ISBN: 0704324334
Publisher: Quartet Books

Pages 102 – 232

As in all mysteries, the closer to the truth our protagonists get, the harder things become for them personally.

Joan is surprised at home by the boy who is supposed to be dead.  The same boy for whom Matthew has gone to London to solve the mystery of his disappearance.  Realizing that someone must reach Matthew, Joan packs her things and journeys to London.

In the meantime, Matthew has spoken with Sir Robert Cecil, Secretary of State and spymaster for Queen Elizabeth I, and develops a plan to prove the crime in progress.  Said crime involves treason with one of England’s greatest enemy states, Spain.

As the Stocks close in, they are arrested on false charges of theft and taken to Newgate Prison, which makes our American prison system seem fair and just.  In what is just a bit much of a coincidence, a fire breaks out in the prison chapel and Matthew and Joan escape amidst the chaos.

Reporting back to Sir Robert, things are sorted and the Stocks return home to rejoin their quiet village life they love so much.

100 Pages a Day: Low Treason Part One

LowTreason
Low Treason
Leonard Tourney

Title: Low Treason
Author: Leonard Tourney
Series:  Matthew and Joan Stock – #2
Published: 1984
ISBN: 0704324334
Publisher: Quartet Books

Pages 1 – 101

While I enjoy Matthew and Joan Stock as characters and the mysteries themselves, I am less taken with Leonard Tourney’s prose.  It’s a pseudo-Elizabethan style which is uneven at best.

I am often amused by things which happen only in the Big City.  For instance, while Matthew is looking over a set of books about the accomplishments of England at a book stall,  the bookseller sidles up to him and says, “Perhaps another choice,” and hands Matthew a book of “filthy pictures, sir.  Deliciously vile and curiously drawn to corrupt a saint.”   Oh my, seventeenth century pornography.

In the first 100 pages there is a burial of someone who’s not dead, blackmail, lies, furtive visits to darkened alleyways and houses of ill-repute.

On page 83, there’s a reference to Argus, the one-hundred eyed giant who stood guard for the Roman goddess Juno.   (For more see Reading Ovid: Book One.)  I wonder if Tourney’s intended audience would have understood this reference.  It reads as a bit showy, to me.  Certainly, it would have flown by me if I haven’t also been reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses and already knew about Argus.

As in the first book, The Players’ Boy is Dead, whodunit is made obvious early on.  How to prove the guilt of whodunit is the name of the game.

Never fear, honest Matthew Stock and his wife, Joan, with her “glimmerings” are on the case to bring a well-heeled heel to justice.

 

A Snake Named Jesus

To tell you my dreams are odd would be an understatement.  They are weird, vivid, brightly Technicolor, and often, violent.  The last week or so they’ve settled for just being odd.

Last night, I had a dream about a snake named Jesus.  Jesus, as in the son of Mary.  Not Jesus, the son of Maria.  And somehow, I was working for the Director.

I got the impression I was working for a movie director, and my job hinged on catching a snake after it had done its bit on film.  Actually, my job hinged on getting over my fear of snakes.  Because being afraid of snakes was going to get me fired.

Jesus was an opalescent color, which scales turned gorgeous rainbow colors.  It was to come out of a pile of food, and I was to catch it and put it in a bin for safe-keeping.  Only, when the time came, I couldn’t find a bin and Jesus escaped me.

The next thing is all of a sudden snakes are coming out of the walls, and people I barely knew in a past long gone were walking the halls of the mall looking to kill snakes with pitchforks and long sticks.

I found myself stopping groups of people and telling them not to kill Jesus.  Other snakes were fair game, but not Jesus.

And then, like the cliché, I woke up.

In waking life news, there’s this.

Personal Log – 20 September 2015

It's Me!
Yup, it’s me. I have missed writing, not gonna lie. My routine is beginning to settle down and I’m still focusing on how to arrange work, chores, etc. so that I can have more energy to write.

I’ve been sleeping a lot.  It’s been oppressively hot and the air quality has triggered allergy headaches, the likes I haven’t seen in twenty years.  Be that as it may, 7Stillwell is never far from my mind.

My dear friend Don has been gone for a year now.  I mention this not as a memorialization of his death but, more simply as a demarcation in time.  A year ago, things were hard.  And I didn’t know what to do to move it them into the tolerable state.

A year ago if someone had said I’d be working part-time at a place I love with people I really like, and vice versa, I probably would have skeptically said, “Can’t get here soon enough.”

I look back over the year and reflect on the events which threatened my sanity (not an over-statement), my physical well-being (broken wrist anyone?), and stand in awe-filled gratitude that things have come out so well.

I will not complain about the gaps still in my life.  What I will do is be grateful for the gaps which have been closed.  A steady paycheck, work I’m extremely good at with people I respect and like at an incredible institution.  For the first time in two years, I had a budget to stretch so I could buy two pairs of shoes on sale.

Just the emotional lift has been awe-inspiring.

The only thing I regret right now is not being able to call Don and hear him say, “Cool,” when I tell him I work at the Computer History Museum.

Dude, I work at a museum!

Reading Ovid: Metamorphoses – Review

Metamorphoses
Ovid
Translated by David Raeburn

Title: Metamorphoses
Author: Ovid, translated by Daniel Raeburn
Published: Reprint, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0140447897
Publisher: Penguin Classics

Book OneBook TwoBook ThreeBook FourBook FiveBook SixBook SevenBook Eight Book Nine Book TenBook ElevenBook TwelveBook ThirteenBook FourteenBook Fifteen

Additional resources used while reading Metamorphoses:

When I write about books, I strive more for commentary than recap or review.  In the case of Metamorphoses, I am not qualified to give a close or technical read.  This is some heavy going and I could easily take several classes about Roman literature, Ovid and Metamorphoses itself, just to learn more about the time and context.  Not to mention the fun of taking art history and literature classes devoted to the impact Ovid had on Western art and literature.

Metamorphoses has been studied since first published in 8CE, just a few years before Ovid died.  The body of work devoted to this epic poem is prodigious.

It seems to me that reading it at least once is worthy of the effort, if only to be exposed to this grand writing, and learn the origin stories of things we already know in our contemporary lives.  Black ball, Midas touch, hyacinth and Pygmalion come to mind.

I encourage anyone who has wondered if they should read it, to give it a go.  My views on what people should or shouldn’t read are pretty clear; people should read what they want.

At the start of Metamorphoses, Ovid states his ambition; to tell the story of the founding of Rome from chaos to the present.  That is a lot of ground to cover.  When I first looked at the page count, 636, I thought it would just take a couple of weeks.  Hah!  Two months later.

Raeburn’s translation helped, as did the trick I finally figured out of reading to the punctuation instead of the meter.  I am horrible with meters and they just make the poem choppy and ugly to me.  But ignoring the meter and reading to the punctuation made things so much easier.

There’s so much going on in this work.  It is grand and sweeping, and sometimes choppy and even more difficult.  I would like to have a better grounding in the literature of the time so that I could understand the allusions and homages more easily.  Romans loved their blood and guts and adventure tales.

In fact, Metamorphoses is rife with violence, gruesome in its detail and astonishing in the litany of names of characters involved in all the “stabbity-stab-stab.”  Rape is another prevalent topic, as is punishment by the gods and goddesses.

This is not a nice, tidy look at the story of Rome, fiction or not.  There were numerous times when I had to stop and remind myself that Metamorphoses was written for an audience who had certain expectations for a great story, and for whom violence was nothing to be squeamish about.

The attitudes towards women are difficult, but again, this was written in first century CE, when the very idea of women speaking up for themselves and showing agency was frowned upon at best, punishable at worst.  Ancient Rome was a very stratified society, even wealthy women were held to be barely better than the slave class.  So it is no surprise this found its way into the literature.

There are very few happy endings in Metamorphoses.  Love goes unrequited, and is frequently punished with grim results.  Happy love stories are reserved for those who are pious in their thoughts and actions.  Even those end sadly, as the characters nearly always die.

The parts I most enjoyed were the personifications of emotions and dreams.  Envy, Rumour and Sleep are all represented here, imagined with entertaining lines.

I enjoyed reading the details of how Ulysses’s men turned into pigs on Circe’s island, from the point of view of one of the men.  And, although Polyphemus was a monster in all meanings of the word, it was fun to read how he tried to make himself into something Galatea could love.  Jove as a golden shower getting Danae pregnant is another favorite bit.

There’s so much to enjoy, and revile, in Metamorphoses, it’s impossible to recount them in any way that makes sense.  I could comb back through each book’s commentary and look for things to write about here.  But I won’t.

What I will say is that reading Metamorphoses was a journey worth taking. One which I am just as happy to have completed, leaving me to move on to less complicated books in my stacks.  One lasting effect I am sure of, nothing I see or read will ever be the same since reading it.

If you’re up for an adventure, and don’t mind working for your read, give Metamorphoses a try.  I can’t guarantee what you’ll get from it, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t get into it.  There are far too many books to be read; don’t read the ones you can’t get into.  As for me, I’m glad to have had the experience.

Personal Log: August 24 – August 30, 2015

Hard Rock Cafe - Ragged Ass Road
Hard Rock Cafe
Banff, Alberta, Canada
2000

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I miss my platinum blonde streak.

Dinner with a friend who often asks very probing questions when trying to understand my thought processes.  It’s something I really appreciate.  This particular evening we fell to talking about data, ways to use it to the advantage of marketing efforts, etc.

As often happens, I will answer his questions with as much thoughtfulness as I can, and then realize I actually sound like I know what I’m talking about.  How did I come to know this stuff, he queried.  In all honesty, it’s observation and intuition of people.  It just seems like common sense to me.  And first hand experience as a season ticket holder at one point in time for the local NHL team and their efforts to keep me engaged as a fan.

My writing has not been a daily practice since I started work.  It is not for lack of things to say or ways to say them.  Nor is it even a lack of will.  Simply, it is a lack of energy.  I refuse to allow this to become habit and have been pondering ways I can adapt to the new schedule and keep my commitment to butt-in-chair every day.

Chuck Wendig, and his blog at terribleminds, keep me engaged with posts about writing.  It no longer scares me to read this is hard work and that I will fall, repeatedly.  And be rejected.  And all those other things that go along with being a writer.  I think there’s a longer post for 7Stillwell based on Chuck’s posts.

It probably also doesn’t hurt that I write because it makes me happy and that I don’t write to make others happy.  Basically, it’s nice to have people read my writing and comment on it in a positive manner, but I really don’t give much of a shit if anyone reads it, or how they feel about it.  I also know that the first deeply insulting, personal attack will make me want to go to my knees, which is also fine.  I’m human, and approbation is what we crave.

Lastly, I watched a reality competition show called The Quest.  It was a Survivor/Amazing Race kinda thing with the twist of having a fantasy story line.  Twelve contestants went to a castle in Austria and bought into the story of saving EverRealm from Verlox the Dark.  The setting was Elizabethan/Renaissance Faire sort of stuff.

The show itself was not much to get excited about.  Which is probably why I kept wondering about what the actors had been told about interacting with the competitors.  And what happened if they broke character or forgot their lines, or dropped their pseudo-British accents?  How did they keep the competitors on task, and guide them to the next scene and stay in character?  I would love to be hearing stories about this kind of behind the scenes stuff.