Incoming: a dalliance that will resolve almost entirely about my personal life and will not get into the specifics of the book’s characters or plot or setting (even the time because holy crap how timeless).
I first read this book in the summer after ninth grade…or was it the summer before? Geez, is this what aging feels like?
In either case, I connected with it almost instantly. I didn’t know why, I just knew certain lines, me engancharon.
She cried, ‘No choice! No choice!’ She doesn’t know. If she doesn’t speak, she is making a choice. If doesn’t try, she can lose her chance forever. (241)
Perhaps that element of disconnect between parent and child, each one bonded by blood and life and yet raised in such different worlds. Although they each share a culture, they struggle to meet in the middle.
I live the reality described in this novel, and before reading it, I lived that reality thinking I must just be bad–bad at talking to my parents, bad at listening, bad at belonging to my “tribe,” I must just be a bad daughter.
Reading The Joy Luck Club this time around however, I found the connection with this book was based more in that mother-daughter relationship specifically.
There is something about the power of a mother.
There is something about the power of a mother, dedicated and loving.
There is something about the embrace of a mother who knows no other similar embrace exists.
There is something about the hold of a mother that exists not only in her hands, her eyes, and her voice, but in the lack of each.
My mother is my rock. My mother has taught me most of what I know about the world (the things that matter anyway. School didn’t do much in that regard with the exception of sex ed.) More importantly though, she taught me many of the things I believe about the world, about myself, how the two need to interact.
I have had to let go and replace the beliefs that did not serve me, did not serve my growth, my evolution. And yet, I find, I cannot label my mother as wrong. I cannot write her off as mistaken, old-fashioned, jaded or uninformed. I cannot change her, and I don’t seek to make her see eye to eye with me. I want her to live in peace and contentedness, I want to switch out all the building blocks she gave me that won’t fit with my world, and come back with a beautiful edification of my life and say, “Mira, mami, mira lo que hice. Estas orgullosa de mi?”
See how even though I say and say that your approval of me is not necessary for how I live, how I choose to live, I still hope for that approval?
See how the three-year old in me has not died?
See how I have almost deified you, my mother, in my mind?
There is something about the love of a mother that is the closest thing to open divine.
I got this beautiful novel at my downtown used book store almost two years ago. This was before it was sold, bought, and remodeled. The new owners are well-known friends of my nephew. They are part of the same Christian community. They spent several weeks weeding out any books that had anything Satanic or having to do with witchcraft or anything explicitly sexual. I helped for an evening, if just to be surrounded by dusty books. After they opened under new ownership, the store had a different feel. Gone was the dark, cavernous, chaotic feeling. It was replaced by light and warmth and something healing. It was the perfect place to go after giving my first love a letter of confession.
But anyway, I’ve digressed terribly. I bought this book before all that was even in conception. I guess there’s just something about the quintessential wartime atmosphere described in The Sealed Verdict that makes me nostalgic. And God knows nostalgia is a rampant emotion these days.
Can I share with you a passage that resonated with me? It has nothing to do with nostalgia, but it does make me wonder why we have so much resistance to change in my country.
And yet, it’s the truth. We talk of liberty, equality, fraternity. We fight under banners of freedom. We die for it. But do we believe in it? We don’t. The French won’t admit that Nazism lives and is growing in France, just as we won’t believe it lives and is growing among us in America. But it’s there, and it’s growing, and we are blind to it, and refuse to recognize it. (267)
The Sealed Verdict was written in 1947, people.
There are many good words in this novel. Many good words strung together in good ways on thick, slightly rough pages fragrant with age and dust. It’s a book I did not expect to treasure so much.
Here, I’ll share one more of my favorite passages before I bid you adieu.
That too is sentiment. My kind of sentiment. Compassion is the quality we display when we punish the cruel and lift up the wounded. It is an important thing to feel and know. (27)
I don’t know if I agree with his definition of compassion, because I’ve never heard it put that way, but it is certainly put so eloquently.
In this chapter in my life, the little things count more than ever.
but what followed before, what after?
a thousand-thousand days,
as many mysterious nights,
and multiplied to infinity,
the million personal things,
things remembered, forgotten,
remembered again, assembled
and re-assembled in different order
as thoughts and emotions,
the sun and the seasons changed,
and as the flower-leaves that drift
from a tree were the numberless
tender kisses, the soft caresses,
given and received; none of these
came into the story
-H.D., from Helen in Egypt
I was going to have a dalliance with this novel, because I liked the narrative and thought that appreciation for Aiken’s talents and imagination should rise above some of the things that were making my PC brain glitch.
I tried, I tried very hard to push away how uncomfortable this “alternative history” made me.
The colonization of a fictional South American civilization by ancient Brits may have placed layer upon layer of make-believe over the injustice of colonization, but I can’t ignore the way the “New Cumbrian” natives paralleled the indigenous people of the Chilean landscape (I’m specifically thinking of the Aymara), and I also couldn’t ignore how the colony itself (the mining especially) clearly takes from what later happens because of British imperialism. It’s a light treatment of something that threw the world’s balance off for centuries.
Here’s a passage I revisited and where my discomfort finally made sense:
…she made haste to scramble into the second-class car, where the atmosphere was as warm as a nesting box. There were no seats at all in here, and the passengers–who were mostly sunburned peasants, bringing their goods to the city–all squatted on the floor. They wore sandals, ponchos, goatskin trousers, and a dozen hats apiece, and the floor was littered with melon seeds, pineapple tassels, and plantain rinds. However, the human climate was a great deal more cordial than in the first-class accommodation.
I’ll admit it: at first, I read this passage and thought, Oh well, at least she’s painting the native people in a positive light.
But upon revisiting, I ask my past self, what in the world were you thinking? I was thinking with the colonized part of my brain, I’ll tell you that.
First, she calls them peasants, as if they chose to be second class in a system imposed upon them. (Don’t even get me started on the detailed description of food refuse and seatless train car and the word choice “human climate.”)
Second, she paints them as happy, “cordial,” accommodating, missing the reality of unrest and pain in the psychology of a subjugated people, or perhaps just outright omitting it because this is, after all, Children’s Literature.
Aiken takes the context of colonization and frames it as a simple given condition of history, the plain canvas on which to overlay imaginative take about King Arthur and her queen.
And perhaps this is all because to her, it was a given condition, it was “just how things were.” This book made me so uncomfortable because it was a peek into the privilege of being able to (or perhaps having to) ignore the injustices of history, injustices committed by a group she identified with, a group her ancestors identified with.
No wonder the whole thing felt dismissive, disrespectful, but most of all strangely delusional.
This is another classic that I have to talk about the ending.
The ending that Hemingway rewrote 47 times. The ending that makes me wonder, as perhaps Hemingway wondered, what then, what was it all for?
How many times over the course of our lives do we find ourselves asking that question?
What was it all for? Why the struggle? Why the strain? Why the magic and enchantment? Why the uphill battle, why the summit? Why the discoveries?
Before the school districts in my area had closed, I went on the first two dates of my life. I had a heavenly time. I was just getting the hang of my leadership role at work. I was beginning to hang out with my friends, and I felt happy and liberated. And then it all came to a halt. I miss the smiling faces of my kindergartners, the feeling of waking up with the purpose of going out into the world, readying myself for social interaction, driving back home, going to sleep knowing I put my best foot forward and ready to do it all over again.
I made so much growth, so much progress, just to return to a state of mind precariously balanced, threatened to regress.
What was it all for?
He studied the blue floodplain out there in the silence. A vast and breathless amphitheatre. Waiting. He’d had this feeling before. In another country. He never thought he’d have it again.
-Cormac McCarthy, from No Country for Old Men
I have this theory that if a Stephanie is a writer, she’s a badass writer. Maybe I’m just biased.
Caraval was sitting on my shelf for quite some time before I finally got around to it, because it’s easier to get around to these books when you’re in quarantine.
Anyway that’s beside the point.
I picked up on themes of trust, deception, reality, appearance–hey these can also be conflicts!
trust vs. deception and reality vs. appearance
Why am I in high school English teacher mode?
As I read, I thought about how Garber was carrying this theme through, which led me to think about the world she created and the magic in it, and the way her characters, both major and minor, respond to it. She constructed this whole world from the words in her brain and the experiences in her memory and heart and we get to read the product.
How special the relationship between writer and reader.
Really long post-script perhaps this is what the post is really about? : I had never read a main character who thought…synesthetically. I’m not sure if is the right word here,
synesthesia: a condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight
because most instances of synesthesia in the book are Scarlett seeing her emotions as colors, sometimes tastes. I know we usually leave emotions out of the five senses, but perhaps that is misguided. In any case, it makes for some beautiful passages, and I’m surprised it isn’t more common.
Scarlett’s feelings came in colors even brighter than usual. The urgent red of burning coals. The eager green of new grass buds. The frenzied yellow of a flapping bird’s feathers. (12)
The image of a purple, fire-breathing dragon came to mind, coating her vision with ashy shades of anxiety. (47)
It [Excitement] tasted like light, bubbly on her tongue and sugary as it went down (89)
A smoky-ginger prickle of discomfort crawled down Scarlett’s neck (110)
Light brown, the color of caramel and liquid amber lust (172)
Brownish green, the color of forgotten memories, abandoned dreams, and bitter gossip (190)
Meta post-script can this post be anymore all over the place :This post’s chaos may be proof that I’ll come out of this quarantine the literary mad scientist I was always meant to be. *nostalgic sigh*
I thought this was going to be the last book in the series but once again Riggs left me wanting the next book already.
I haven’t experienced sequel thirst in such a long time.
Riggs reminded me of the power that a writer holds when he allows the scope of his imagination to be limitless.
What I thought was going to be a simple story about a boy finding his place among friends as strange as him turned into a story about a boy finding his purpose in a world that wants to categorize him, label him, tell him what is and is not allowed.
How many of us can not relate to this? This is the human experience. This why this series continues to pull me in. Riggs is one of the few contemporary writers that truly inspires me as a future novelist.
I got this book from my sister as a gift on my 19th or 20th birthday. It just sat on my shelf as one of those books I would get around to at some point. (Ironically, Kondo says that sometime = never.) It continued to survive our book purges. Something about the matte, dust-jacket-less hard cover and its serene, yet textured, blue-green color made me treasure it.
Well, I got around to it, obviously or there wouldn’t be a post here, but I did more than just read the book. I tidied my room using the Marie Kondo method–the KonMari method, as she officially calls it. I had been in the process of changing up how I store things in my room for some time now, mainly to get rid of this eyesore of a black filing cabinet in my closet. We invested in a few of those bamboo two-tiered shoe shelves. We got rid of all the plastic bins in our closet that were storing shoes and purses.
I later found out that Kondo hates plastic bins. I just thought they were tacky and realized they were allowing me to have more things that I hardly used or didn’t even remember I had.
So, reading Kondo’s book, I recognized that I had already done a lot of the steps she detailed, but only partially, and Kondo emphasizes the totality of her method. So I got my sister to agree to putting all of our clothes on the floor, whether stored in the closet or in the garage, and hold each one, considering whether it brings us joy or not. (We got rid of the bins in our garage that were storing off-season clothes.)
We did the same with our collection of books, ad I purged so many papers–old essays and papers that most certainly did not bring joy. I kept all of my writings from my Writing For Teachers course, but that’s probably the only extensive keep. (Shout out to Dr. Patterson, you are still such an inspiration to me!) I discarded the “professional” unit I designed–a cause of many stressful weeks. Maybe that wasn’t the smartest choice, but I figure if I ever need it, I could make a better one with the knowledge and experience I have now, and have so much more fun without my professor figuratively (and sometimes literally) breathing down my neck.
It’s kind of amazing that everything I wear–and I mean everything from my underwear to my lounge/sleepwear makes me happy to put on my body.
We got rid of craft supplies, old mementos, random miscellany that was just collecting dust, that almost made us feel guilty looking at it, that we swept under a metaphorical rug in order to do the same to our guilt. The room breathes again, feels like a sanctuary, like a little cottage with all the things I need and love, and I am filled with gratitude for it.
Eventually, I’m going to move out. Soon actually. Into my own apartment. A studio. I will have more space to occupy, but the way I store things–vertical storage is key and keep everything accessible and easy to put away–has forever changed my consumer habits. I have more present in my mind what I have, so I know if I have room for it, if I really need it, if it is like the things that I already own that bring me joy.
The reason I had already started this process before reading the book is because of two other texts I was introduced to through therapy–Calling in “The One” by Katherine Woodward Thomas, which perhaps I will do a future post about and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, in audiobook form actually. Thomas suggests ridding your space of past relationships even if those reminders are not visible. Hay suggests ridding your space of the old; old clothes, old food, old clutter, in order to usher in the new, to usher in change, to make room in your mind for the mental work that healing requires.
The largest takeaway from this whole journey has been how spiritually connected we are to the space we inhabit. When we can make peace with what we call home, we have a deep rooted sense of peace with how we go forth in the world. Minds ordered. Hearts filled with joy.
lo encuentren vivo y me lo traen y si lo encuentren muerto me lo traen vivo y si no lo encuentran me lo traen
-Gabriel García Marquéz, from El otoño de la patriarca