I’m no poet, and don’t I know it

On this last week of National Poetry month, I thought I’d make homage to the form by choosing a favorite poem and sharing it here.

I don’t currently read much poetry, and I certainly can’t write it. When I was in my twenties and in love with literature, I read much more, and even tried writing a few (I seem to remember one called Autumn Leaves, and another comparing myself to Penelope while my boyfriend was Odysseus, off having adventures while I waited patiently at home for his phone call. Blech.)

I remember reading and liking Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, in particular; modern poets I liked tended to be women-Sylvia Plath or Marge Piercy.

Anyway, my reading of poetry waned, and I think I did the world a favor when I stopped writing it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good poem now and then.

Since April is also the 400th birthday of Shakespeare, here’s my pick:

shakespeare sonnet

 

 

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On the Pleasures of a Sore Throat

It’s official: I’m a sickly person.

I have my share of colds and illness every season, but having just recovered from my third round of strep throat in two months, it’s undeniable. It’s beyond the bounds of decency. It reminds me of those writers who had “weak constitutions” as children. Little Jane was so ill that she couldn’t go outside to play with the other children; surrounded by her books, she could do nothing else but become a writer.

I figure if I’m going to be sick, then I’m going to write about it.

I’ve been reading a book on writing essays by Dinty W. Moore called Crafting the Personal Essay. In one chapter he talks about introducing conflict into your writing, and one way to do that is to be the provocateur; in other words, put two opposing ideas into your writing. He offers an example from an essayist named William Hazlitt who wrote “On The Pleasures of Hating”, and suggested another example on the theme, say, On The Pleasures of a Sore Throat.

Well, I had a sore throat. A bad one, a recurring one, with the attendant nausea, swollen glands, and crushing fatigue. It’s not, by any means, pleasurable. But could there be some kind of silver lining wrested from the situation? An upside, something that saves it from being total, abject misery?

I had plenty of time to think about it, and the answer is: no.

But wait. There is the napping…

The first awful day was spent in total darkness in my bedroom, curled up in the fetal position, pulled down into groggy, coma-like sleep between doses of Tylenol, my throat inflamed, my stomach churning. I wouldn’t call it pleasurable in any way.

By the second day, however, with several doses of antibiotics in me, I was feeling much better, but still not well enough to participate in the activities of the world. And I suppose that’s my first point: at first, I get panicky and irritated that I have to stop my life completely to deal with illness; but since there’s nothing I can do about it, I eventually move on to acceptance. There’s a freedom in that. Sorry, can’t adult today. Can’t do anything today, except take a nap.

couch

I’m well enough to take this nap on the couch downstairs in the living room. The curtains are only partially closed, and some light filters through the gap; I see a brilliant blue sky and yellow sunshine outside, and normally I would be depressed that I can’t go out in it. But not today. The couch looks inviting. It’s a long, comfortable couch, and I curl up on it, pull a blanket over me. It’s quiet; my husband is at work, my daughter at school. There’s only the the occasional drip from the kitchen faucet, the hum of the refrigerator. The heat turns on, and the pipes in the walls knock and hiss and whoosh, the house sounds that I find so comforting. I think about the dream I had the night before, of cars falling from the sky, crashing to the ground like missiles, they’re getting closer, there’s nowhere to hide.I turn over and doze, but don’t remember what I dream. I’m awakened by a slam of a door, as the neighbor comes home, his booted feet pummeling up the stairs, his dog following, his claws ticka-ticking on the wooden steps. Cars zoom up the drive outside our window; a Bobcat drones somewhere outside. Birds are singing in the pine tree. Eventually Lilly’s Peanuts cuckoo clock goes off upstairs; it’s Schroeder’s piano theme, marking the hour.

But it’s been two hours, two hours of dozing and dreaming and listening, something I don’t normally allow myself to do during the day. Pleasurable? Yes, despite the throat that still hurts when I yawn. Would I rather have been outside enjoying the long-awaited spring? Absolutely. But illness has a way of taking you out of the maelstrom, and converting you into the eye of the storm. The busyness revolves around me, but I’m not a part of it. I’m the observer, the listener, the things that made me a writer in the first place.

Maybe the germ gods decided I needed some more listening time. Or maybe it’s just the chaptsticks I didn’t throw out after my last illness, reinfecting me. Yeah, could be that.

 

Dark Places-Book Review

dark places

I always feel a little beat up after reading a Gillian Flynn novel, battered and bruised by her vivid, sharp prose, her intensely unlikable characters, and her dark, that-makes-me-really-uncomfortable themes.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I do. In a morbid, I-can’t-look-away sense. Gone Girl, of course, brought her to my attention, and then I backtracked to her earlier novels: Sharp Objects and now Dark Places. While Gone Girl provided psychological insight into the mind of a sociopath, and Sharp Objects dealt with Munchhausen Syndrome (a parent, usually a mother, who intentionally makes her child ill to get attention), Dark Places covers axe murders and devil-worship. Yeah, I know, but stay with me here.

Dark Places begins with 31 year-old Libby Day, who must come out of her habitual torpor when she realizes the trust fund she’s been living off of for 24 years is spent. The money had come from well-wishers after her mother and two sisters were slaughtered on their farm in rural Kansas in 1985, when Libby was 7. Her then 15 year-old brother Ben was convicted of the murders, and has been in prison ever since.

Now that the money is gone, Libby must face the impossible reality of getting a job, though isn’t qualified for anything that she can think of. She receives a letter from Lyle Wirth, a member of a group called The Kill Club. These are people who are interested in (or obsessed with) unsolved crimes, and The Kill Club believes Ben is innocent of her family’s murder. Lyle is willing to pay Libby to make an appearance for the group. Since she has no other source of income, she agrees.

Though put off by their weird obsession with her family, and convinced that they’re wrong about Ben’s innocence, Libby starts looking into the case after years of avoiding it, with the promise of more money from Lyle. As she begins her own digging, Libby starts to doubt herself: what if her testimony at 7 years old was coached, and put her innocent brother behind bars? Soon enough, it’s more than money that motivates her to get to the truth of what happened that day of January 2, 1985.

The book alternates between Libby of the present day (2009), and her mother Patty and brother Ben on the day of the murders. The three story lines keep you guessing right up to the very end: was it Lou Cates, the father of a girl who Ben was accused of molesting? Was it Trey Teepano, Ben’s devil-worshiping friend, and a bookie who had money owed to him by Ben’s loser father, Runner? Was it Runner, who was furious at his ex-wife for not giving him money he imagined she had? Or was it really Ben, an angry, frustrated, confused teenage farm boy who couldn’t take it anymore?

Dark Places taps into the wave of paranoia concerning child molestation and devil-worship that swept the nation in the 1980’s. If these things make you squirm-as well as animal mutilation, sexually aggressive preteen and teen girls, and the humiliating underbelly of poverty-then this aptly-titled book isn’t for  you.

Though often grisly and disturbing, Flynn expertly handles her subject matter; it never feels gratuitous or exploitative. What kept me greedily turning the pages were the twists and turns that made me desperate to know whodunit and why.

There’s a movie version starring Charlize Theron, and if I watch it, I’ll review it here and compare to the book.

Have you read the book or seen the movie?  Is Gillian Flynn too dark for you, or right up your alley? Drop a line here and we’ll talk about it!

 

Naked and (Not So?)Afraid

naked and afraid

My husband and daughter are currently into watching the Discovery Channel show Naked and Afraid.

The premise is to match up two strangers, a man and a woman, strip them of their clothing, and drop them off into some wild, inhospitable place like the Amazon rain forest, the Nicaraguan jungle, or some arid African hot spot. They have to live off the land for 21 days, and make their way to a predetermined rendezvous place, where a helicopter will fly in to take them home. If they make it that far. They’re each allowed to bring one survival item (a flint kit, a small pot, a pocket knife, etc.); they’re given a Primitive Survival Rating before the event (based on survival skills and knowledge) and then re-assessed afterward.

I hate to admit it, but the show draws me in. It’s interesting (and entertaining) to see how these two buck naked strangers learn to survive together in these harsh environments, mostly because I have no survival skills whatsoever and would probably cry if I found myself in such a situation. Oh, and die. I’d definitely die.

Of course, since it’s a TV show, there’s no danger of anyone actually dying-if someone gets dehydrated or seriously ill, they’re taken out of the show. They can pretend it’s a matter of life and death, eat whatever they can get their hands on-fish, if they’re lucky, or small animals, but it’s usually snakes, scorpions, bugs, or half-rotten exotic fruit-and lose up to 20 pounds by the end of the challenge. But it’s usually dehydration that brings the producers in to save them before they die. There’s a safety net inherent in the whole thing. So while they’re naked, I’m a little dubious about the afraid part.

Even so, why would anyone put themselves through such hell? I suppose there are people out there who actually want to challenge themselves, to see how far they can go before intervention is required; most of the participants do make it the full 21 days-several pounds lighter, hungry, thirsty, exhausted physically and mentally-but proud of themselves in the knowledge that they have finished the challenge and could survive, at least for awhile, in the wild (one woman triumphantly finished, only to learn days later that she had contracted Dengue Fever, and would suffer for months afterward). Well, good for them.

Would I ever do it? Hell no! I don’t even like camping anymore, with our luxurious tents and sleeping bags, and a cooler full of store-bought food. I like my modern-day comforts like electricity, running water, and foam memory mattresses. If the apocalypse occurred, I wouldn’t last very long. I wouldn’t want to. I’m fully woven into the fabric of our modern life.

But the show gives a taste of what our ancestors had to do every single day simply to survive. We’ve come a long way on comfort and convenience (not to mention safety and health), but have traded something essential if our house-of-cards world ever fell apart: self-reliance.

What about you? Would you survive Naked and Afraid (Or the Apocalypse) ? Drop a line here and we’ll talk about it!

Vacation Victory

We’re closing in on the end of school vacation week, and Lilly and I have had a fun time enjoying the great New England weather we’ve been having. I’ve had fun coming up with questions for readers and reading your answers. Thanks for participating!

We spent the week doing some fun things with Lilly-we hiked in the Quabbin Reservoir, played at our neighborhood park quite a bit, and visited Yankee Candle just down the road from us. Lilly loves this amazing candle store that has so much more. She loves to visit the toy store, the candy shoppe, and the Bavarian village (where it “snows” every four minutes with bubbles). This week there was extra fun, as they offered lots of activities for kids. We went bowling and mini-golfing on one day, and had sundaes with Santa and Mrs. Claus on another. Here are a few pictures of our visits:

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Bowling
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Mini Golfing
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It’s snowing!
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On the good ship Lollipop

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I’m sure we’ll get to the park again this weekend, and I promised her I’d bring her to a Sunday matinee to see Zootopia. Operation Keep Lilly Busy This Week has been a success!

 

 

 

Talent Tally

This week I’ve been asking readers funny little questions about themselves, and offering little tidbits about myself in return.

Monday I asked about your Dream Destination.

Tuesday I gave you a Quirky Query.

Wednesday I asked you about Cartoon Craziness.

Today my question is: do you have a hidden talent? Something you’re pretty good at but don’t brag about or advertise that much?

I’m not bad at drawing. I fiddled around with drawing in my twenties, and felt I had enough potential to consider pursuing it. I loved the smell of the pencils, the different shades and techniques, seeing images emerge out of paper. But I decided to concentrate on writing. (Time will tell if I made the right choice!).

drawing pencils

What about you? What talents do you have that the world has yet to discover?

Cartoon Craziness

On this school vacation week, I have some fun questions for you, dear readers, while I’m busy playing with my daughter.

On Monday, I asked about your Dream Destination.

On Tuesday, I had a Quirky Query for you.

Today, I’m wondering: what was your favorite cartoon as a child?

For me, it was a toss up between

looney tunes

and

superfriends 2

These two shows (and maybe some Smurfs) glued me to my television set for a few hours on Saturday mornings. Looney Tunes is where I got my goofy sense of humor; Superfriends entertained me with (what I thought was) epic storytelling and the struggle between heroes and villains, long before Justice League or the DC comics movie franchise, although I’d probably cringe watching it today (Wonder Twin powers, activate!). Looney Tunes is timeless, and I’d watch it with Lilly right now if I could!

What cartoons did you enjoy as a child (or still enjoy)?