Thursday, December 29, 2016

BOOKS! (The Rapture of Canaan)

Another used book sale find. You know when you see a book, and after examining it you’re pretty sure you’ll find it only marginally interesting, but you decide to buy it anyway, and you wind up loving it more than any other book you’ve read in the past six months? Well I loved this one so much that I had to write about it all by itself.

The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds

In an unspecified U.S. state somewhere south of Virginia is a rigid, tobacco-farming, fundamentalist Christian commune, whose epicenter is the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God’s Almighty Baptizing Wind. Its leader, affectionately known as “Grandpa Herman” had been so shaken by his time serving in World War II, that he dedicated his life to Christ and set about creating a church and community which he’d run the same way he thought God ran Heaven.  But what he created was a fearful and isolated community of cruel obedience and sameness, where every member is related by blood or marriage, and Grandpa Herman is pastor, judge, and financial manager.

Growing up in “the community” is our narrator Ninah (nigh-nuh), an adolescent girl who realizes early on that she doesn’t quite fit in amongst her fellows who happily live by the rules and fiercely defend their way of life. She doesn’t like being indistinguishable in physical appearance from all the other female members. She resents being expected to act or not act a certain way just because she’s a girl. She’s skeptical of the theatrical wailing and crying and speaking in tongues that occurs every Sunday. And she’s got so many questions and opinions that, at first, she can bring to no one but Nanna. Grandpa Herman’s wife abides by her husband because she loves him, but internally she’s the most independent thinker at Fire and Brimstone. To a certain extent, this granddaughter and grandmother are each other’s confidants.

And so, when Ninah and her nephew-in-law James fall for each other (he’s Ninah’s eldest sister’s husband’s son from a different marriage; not incestuous but is still awkward), Nanna is her sole advocate. She arranges for the two youths to become prayer partners, allotted an amount of daily (and rare) private time together which is supposed to bring them closer to Jesus and hopefully prepare them for courting and marriage in the future. What they actually do is get to know each other in the biblical sense. In the choir loft, in the tobacco fields, behind barns, wherever they can. Eventually and unsurprisingly, Ninah winds up pregnant at the tender age of 15.

Though the story focuses on Ninah, James is actually the most tragic and one of the most fascinating characters in this novel.  He’s only one year older than Ninah, and he challenges much of Fire and Brimstone’s ideologies just like Ninah does. But the boy is so terribly afraid and confused that he flips between tolerance and torment on the daily. In fact, he’s so terrified of being rejected by God and tortured or killed (literally) by the community for fornicating and impregnating Ninah, that before news of the baby gets out to anyone else, he drowns himself in a nearby pond.

What follows is a whirlwind that I won’t spoil for you, but basically Ninah goes from being ostracized as a slut to being revered as the mother of the new Messiah, and she wields this fantasy to her advantage. Of course, The Rapture of Canaan is a tale of coming of age and the fallout from a teenage love affair, but under the surface it’s also the journey of a young woman grasping at self-determination in almost unconscionable conditions. She wants to honor what makes people (including herself) human without scorning them for it, and she questions what she’s been taught not to disprove her faith, but in order to make it more sincere.

One last point worthy of making is that the novel poses sexual intercourse as a form of prayer or worship, and I actually greatly appreciate that idea. On one hand this logic functions as a convenient and disingenuous way for Ninah and James to excuse themselves for engaging in the same thing that they’ve been taught to disparage others for. But on the other hand, it makes some sense. For them, sex is a way to experience Jesus through each other, and they’re not the only characters in the book who attest to feeling closer to God or understanding him better through such physical intimacy. As a Christian who wasn’t raised to view sex as evil but knows plenty of others who have, I think Reynolds proposes a perspective that all believers should consider. If you do question or have ever questioned faith, if you are in any way intrigued by the people behind religious cults and fundamentalism, and if you enjoy reading about female characters who are saved by their own stubbornness, then read The Rapture of Canaan. Undoubtedly my favorite book that I’ve read this year, next to An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, and Why We Came to The City by Kristopher Jansma.

Favorite quotes:

“For a second, I wanted to knock the stool right from under his self-righteous feet. Then I reminded myself not to fight evil with evil. And then I did it anyway” (105).

“Nobody even tried to tell her that he was simply normalbecause to Laura, that would have been like saying he was retarded. And I wanted to shake her until she broke and all the stupidness jingled out because she just couldn’t understand that what was normal was miraculous enough” (270).

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

BOOKS! (Running in the Family + Citizen)

We're getting so close to the New Year! There are three days left in 2016 after today, and this will be my third-to-last book review of the year (I've got two more for books that I've already finished in the works, and another two books I'm trying to finish reading before Sunday but which I probably won't be able to write about until after 2017 has arrived). With that said, let's gone on with it! This time around, the first read is another used find, and the second is a book I bought last year while working at the store.

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

Nearly 15 years before his prize-winning novel, The English Patient (which inspired the Oscar-winning film of the same name), was published, Michael Ondaatje took two trips from his home in Canada back to his native Sri Lanka for the first time since the 1950s. This memoir contains the recollections that he had recorded during both trips, which involved re-engaging with relatives and friends, revisiting old haunts, hearing familial legends for the first or thousandth time, and gaining a more nuanced understanding of his family history, which dates all the way back to Dutch and British colonization of the tear-shaped island nation. I'd been aware that Sri Lanka was one of the areas of South Asia that had been colonized by the Dutch and the British (and the Portuguese, but I know the least about that). But the only book I'd read about such colonial exploits, written by a native of said areas, was Pramoedya Ananta Toer's This Earth of Mankind (which is a fantastically consuming novel, by the way). And that's about Indonesia; I'd actually read nothing written specifically about Sri Lanka before. Laying my hands on this book reminded me that I still have plenty to learn, so I bought it.

Through Running in the Family Ondaatje offers readers a tribute to his family and its stories, as much as he offers insight into Sri Lanka's geography, climate, and literary/political history. But what stands out most to me are his descriptions of high society (both sides of his family were considerably wealthy and well-connected through the early 1900s). The parties, the affairs, the petty wars, the drunken spectacles, the controversies, the tragedies. Ondaatje's relatives and their friends are just as messy as regular people sometimes wish rich people to be, and they neither put on airs to the contrary nor bear any shame. Though his mischievous yet beloved father's complicated legacy is the note that Running in the Family ends on, Ondaatje also doesn't forget to acknowledge that the women of his family are his main source of information, especially his numerous aunts. Women often carry the oral histories that keep cultures alive, and his relatives are no different.

Favorite quotes:
"The island seduced all of Europe. The Portuguese. The Dutch. The English. And so its name changed, as well as its shape,Serendip, Ratnapida ("island of gems"), Taprobane, Zeloan, Zeilan, Seyllan, Ceilon, and Ceylonthe wife of many marriages, courted by invaders who stepped ashore and claimed everything with the power of their sword or bible or language" (64).  
"But Lalla could never be just a mother; that seemed to be only one muscle in her chameleon nature, which had too many other things to reflect... Lalla remained the center of the world she moved through. She had been beautiful when young but most free after her husband died and her children grew up. There was some sense of divine right she felt she and everyone else had, even if she had to beg for it or steal it. This overbearing charmed flower" (124-125).

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

A woman named Johari Osayi Idusuyi was the only reason I knew about this book at first. I learned her name last autumn when a video of her reading Citizen at one of he-who-shall-not-be-named's rallies became an internet sensation, and that was all the endorsement I needed for this book of poetry. But know that this is not only a book of poetry; it's an art piece! One poem's text employs gradation to symbolize the seemingly unending erasure of Black lives. Another poem layers still images of the 2006 World Cup with selected quotes from a handful of notable utterers, suggesting that European racism toward people of Arab descent isn't divorced from anti-black racism. And numerous photos and art reprints are planted in between her poems, including an infamous American lynching photograph in which the dead black man hanging from the tree is removed, and the white spectators crowding beneath him have now become the object of spectacle.

Rankine is not only concerned with the historical aspect of racism, the reality that we as Black people in America will never be able to detach ourselves from the trauma and enforced limitations thrust upon our ancestors. She also takes up the daily lived experiences of racism, the subtle and unsaid ones, the ones that set off our intuitions and yet plant doubt in our mindsin other words, microaggressions. If you do not know what microaggressions are or don't quite understand how they play out in real life, let the multiple examples that Rankine provides be a resource for you. Citizen is a literary work that as many different sorts of people as possible should read, but it's also clearly an affirmation to Black people (and all people of color to a certain extent) that we are not crazy, that we are not imagining things, that our thoughts and feelings are not wrong.

Favorite quotes:
"To live through the days sometimes you moan like a deer. Sometimes you sigh. The world says stop that. Another sigh. Another stop that. Moaning elicits laughter, sighing upsets... truth be told, you could no more control those sighs than that which brings them about... That's just self-preservation... The sighing is a worrying exhale of an ache. You wouldn't call it an illness; still it is not the iteration of a free being." (59-60).

 "because white men can't 
police their imagination
black men are dying" (135).

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas morning.

(After listening to Ma and Grandpa joke about my Aunt Daune's Christmas morning ritutals)

Me: When she gets here I'mma tell her y'all were talking about her.

Grandpa (entire face widens with indignance): I'll talk about her to her face! What that got to do with anything? Shoooot... 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Scripture & Lyrics

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” -Esther 4:13‭-‬14 (NIV)

"Can you say your name, or would you rather stay unknown? / Can you show your face, or are you fearful of it shown? / Can you feel your heart, or does it beat for you alone? / Lift your glass up high, say that your truth will never lie / If your love cannot be moved" -Stevie Wonder ft. Kim Burrell

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"The Ocean Chose You!" - Moana

Moana is for Pacific Islanders. Indigenous people. Melanated populations and their ancestors. Protectors of the earth. Healers. Mamas, Mama's mamas, and Mama's Mama's mamas. Seekers. Adventurers. Girls on fire. People who know there's something more inside them and that they have to see it through, even if they don't know why or how.  Do your spirit a favor and go see this movie!

Seen Thursday, December 1st: Moana

When vegetation starts dying and fish become scarce for the island of Motunui, the villagers begin to fear for their survival. The chief's daughter Moana is then inspired by her grandmother to sail the ocean and make the demi-god Maui restore balance to nature by returning the power of creation that he'd stolen to its rightful keeper. That is, to Te Fiti, mother goddess of the earth. With the ocean's help, Maui's supernatural abilities, and her ancestors' guidance, Moana must save her island before it's too late. 

"The ocean is calling."


What I really like about this film: Reverence for ancestors! Reverence for elders! Do you need guidance? Do you need a reminder of where you come from and what your purpose is? Then consult those who came before you, and listen to them!

Reverence for maternal figures and spirits! Especially Moana's grandmother Tala, the ocean (yes, the ocean is its own character in this movie!), and mother goddess Te Fiti. I've never had a grandmother but I was deeply moved by what Moana and Tala share, which is something that's unspeakably precious, honest, and authentic in a mischievous way. Do you need encouragement? Do you need someone to see and affirm in you what no one else does? Do you need someone to love you back to life?  Then seek out that mama, that grandmama, that auntie, that sister, that motherly figure in your life, and listen to them!

And my Lord, there are such beautiful people all up and through this movie! Such unambiguously brown skin, such full lips, such broad noses, such glorious dark curls and waves. Variations of phrases including "We know who we are", "my/our people", "this/our island" are prevalent in the film's dialogue, and this is neither coincidental nor redundant. Moana is not only an adventure story led by a headstrong young girl. It is also a bold statement about a culture honoring its origins, cherishing its natural resources, and protecting its beloved home so that this home can continue to love it back.

Also, I don't think I've ever witnessed a feat of animation as awe-inducing as the scene where Te Fiti comes back to life in her true form. The goddess is manifested as a gigantic and lushly green woman-shaped island made of trees, plants, vines, and flowers. She is royal and superior to all, and at the same time is tender and graceful, communicating with her facial expressions and the movement of her body. She may very well be the most magnificent being that I have ever seen appear on screen.

What I don't like about this film: I didn't really care for Moana's main song ("How Far I'll Go"), but I LOVED "We Know the Way" and Maui's song, "You're Welcome" (especially the soundtrack version with Jordan Fisher and Lin Manuel Miranda). I had no idea that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson could carry a tune, and the lyrics, delivery, and cheekily arrogant attitude of the song are classic Lin Manuel. Oh and I almost forgot! "Shiny", a trippy song sung by an evil crab named Tamatoa (Flight of the Conchord's Jemaine Clement) is oddly pleasing to the ear given its murderous intentions.

Would I recommend it?: YES! YES YES YES! This film is such a victory for brown peoples everywhere, but especially Pacific Islanders because I don't think we've ever had a film of this scale that centers them the way Moana does. Island characters, island mythology, islanders and other people of color voicing most of the leads and singing most of the music. Disney has produced many masterpieces but this is one of the most unique, humbling, and inspiring ones.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

BOOKS! (Tears of the Giraffe + Annie John)

Looks like I've been hitting upon a couple of duds lately. I suppose it happens to all of us avid readers, especially to those of us who invariably must finish a book once we've started it. Today I've got one book that I didn't care very much for, and another that I liked well enough at first but which I appreciate even more now after having sat with it for a bit.

Tears of the Giraffe (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #2) by Alexander McCall Smith

I read the first book in this series two years ago and recently found the third at a used book sale, but I decided to buy the second just in case I might miss something in between. Turns out I could've skipped this one altogether! Tears of the Giraffe isn't nearly as eventful as its predecessor, where numerous mysteries were included in order to establish Mma Ramotswe as a detective and set a precedent for how she approaches and solves her cases. The sequel, on the other hand, contains only two mysteries that each require minimal effort and ingenuity: a local man who suspects his wife of having an affair, and a white American woman who seeks closure regarding  her college-aged son who had disappeared 10 years prior. The rest is pretty inconsequential. Mma Ramotswe's fiancé Mr. J.L.B Matekoni adopts a pair of siblings from the orphanage that he does odd jobs for, basically electing her for motherhood without her input. But when she discovers this, they discuss it briefly once, and then she takes the kids to her house for lunch and a tour of their new home as if everything has been resolved. Which does not read as believable to me at all. As a woman who knows and does what she wants, I had expected Mma Ramotswe to make more of an issue of it (I know I would have!). And then there's Mr. J.L.B Matekoni's wretchedly lazy maid on whom we spend a considerable amount of time but who seems to serve little purpose other than comic relief, and even she's more irritating than comic. My hope is that Tears of the Giraffe was written as a breather, setting up some of the more mundane details in order to prepare for something more engaging in the third book. I wasn't planning to read beyond that one anyway, but we'll see if I'm correct.

Favorite quote:
"'How do we know that Gaborone will still be there in fifty years' time? Have the ants not got their plans for Gaborone as well?' Mma Ramotswe smiled. It was a good way of putting it. All our human endeavours are like that, she reflected, and it is only because we are too ignorant to realize it, or are too forgetful to remember it, that we have the confidence to build something that is meant to last. Would the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency be remembered in twenty years' time? Or Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors? Probably not, but then did it matter all that much?" (95-96).

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

As a student I had the great fortune of being assigned to read Jamaica Kincaide's "Upon Seeing England For the First Time" essay in high school, and later on to read her novel A Small Place as a sophomore year in college. So when I spotted Annie John at the aforementioned used book sale, I felt compelled to snatch it up too! In keeping with the imperialism-related focus of most of Kincaid's material, this novel features the titular young woman narrating her childhood and adolescence in Antigua while it was still a British colony. Given that the novel is written in past tense, we are led to believe that Annie John is at least 17 years old if not completely grown at the time of writing, since that is the age when she leaves the Caribbean island for England, with no intention of returning.

Of the two Kincaid books that I've now read, I wouldn't say that Annie John is my favorite. Nonetheless, it is so evocative of the wonder, mischief, and agony of youth that I wouldn't be in a rush to discard it. Annie John's gradually tempestuous relationship with her mother affected me the most, as someone who is close to her own mom. While Annie John adores and is inseparable from her mother as a little one, as a teenager she wants nothing more than to get away from her mother (and to a extent, everything in relation to her life on the island). But Kincaid doesn't allow the reader to dismiss this behavior as typical teenage moodiness. In fact, Annie John's enmity begins with what she perceives to be betrayal. As she enters puberty, her mom becomes stricter with her and reduces the physical displays of affection they once shared. Her mom is simply trying to raise her daughter to be a proper young lady (whatever that means for that particular place and time), but because she doesn't explain the "why" of all this to her daughter, Annie John feels like she's being punished and can't figure out what she's done wrong. Her conclusion is that her mom doesn't love her anymore, and a hurt and confused Annie John strives to best her mother in a spiteful competition of who can show the least love. She reveals less of her life to her mom, gives icier and more curt responses to her mom's questions, pursues more mischief, tells more untruths. But as much as she claims to abhor her parents, she winds  up following in their path. Her mother left her native Dominica for Antigua, and her father was on his own following the death of the grandmother who had raised him. They both obtained independence and were thrust into adulthood due to tumultuous circumstances in their teens, and in attempting to distance herself from her them, Annie John actually becomes resembles them all the more. If you enjoy reading Caribbean literature and stories of teen angst outside of the mainstream YA genre, try Annie John.

Favorite quotes:
"I envied the way the air seemed to part for them, freeing itself of any obstacle so that they wouldn't have to make an effort. Now I could see that the air just parted itself quickly so that it wouldn't have to bear their company for long. For what a dull bunch they were! They had no different ideas of how to be in the world; they certainly didn't think that the world was a strange place to be caught living in" (90).

"For I could not be sure whether for the rest of my life I would be able to tell when it was really my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world" (107).

Monday, November 28, 2016


Admittedly I'm out of my depth with this one. I know nothing about Miami, and though I know more about the LGBTQ community than I did even a year ago, I still know nothing personally of the lived experience of being gay. One of my favorite podcasters Xavier D'Leau (from Jade & XD) briefly reviewed the film but wasn't impressed by it, quipping that (and I paraphrase), "This is a gay movie made for straight people", which I can somewhat understand. He also said you'd have to be really smart to get what the film's angle is, and perhaps this is one of those moments where I'm not so smart, since I feel like something significant went over my head. Which is to say, I'm not sure that I took away from it all that I was supposed to. But here goes.

Seen Monday, November 21st: Moonlight

A journey through the childhood ("Little"), adolescence ("Chiron") and early 20s ("Black") of a young black man named Chiron coming of age in Miami. Growing up poor and practically having to raise himself as his single mom sinks into a crack addiction, Chiron manages to find tenderness in unexpected people and places. While his circumstances and cruel peers bully him into being hypermasculine, those moments of tenderness and refuge allow him to explore his sexual identity along the way.

What I really like about this film:  Mahershala Ali getting shine as a featured character. No matter what I see him in, even if he's playing an intimidating or no-nonsense person (see his role in the final two Hunger Games movies), his face is so full of warmth, wisdom, and kindness. It's completely possible that he's wretched on the inside and is just that adept of an actor, but for me he's one of those actors whom you want to believe is a good person in real life. His dual ability to play hard and soft at the same time is reflected in his role as Juan in Moonlight. He's a drug dealer who doesn't play about his business, but as Chiron's father figure, can only bow his head and shed a tear in shame when confronted by this child whose mother is addicted to Juan's product. Also, the scene where Juan teaches Chiron how to swim in the ocean is divine. The scene appeared to be a baptism in the film's trailer, and in the film itself there is still something tender and holy about that moment.

The lighting. The colors. The contrast. A fantastical world sprouting from the hood. I wish I had enough film studies vocabulary to explain what I mean, but I can't. Watch the film and you'll see what I mean.

What I Don't Like About This Film: This is actually part of the genius of the film rather than something I dislike, but I feel like we never truly learn who Chiron is as a person. We know all of his nicknames, we know the people who make and break his world. We know he's got a tenderhearted soul on the inside, but who is he? One could argue that it's not even clear what his sexual orientation is. Obviously he's had same-sex feelings and encounters, but would Chiron necessarily identify himself as a gay man? From early on, numerous people remind him that he's gay or somehow not masculine enough and that he should expect to be mistreated for it, but this is long before he has the chance to examine himself or even know what a "f*gg*t" supposedly is. He is drawn to his classmate Kevin, but is this because he's attracted to him specifically or because Kevin's the only person his age that's kind to him? Upon their reunion as adults, is the intimacy they share in the final scene a lovers' embrace, or a pair of long-lost friends holding each other up? Perhaps I'm too straight and inexperienced in matters of the heart to properly appreciate the subtleties. But my impression is that at the end of Moonlight, Chiron is just on the threshhold of being able to express himself as an unencumbered adult.

Would I recommend it?:  Most definitely. We don't have many black boyhood movies, and we certainly don't have many black boyhood films that contemplate masculinity and sexuality with the care that Moonlight does. This film is beautiful and valuable and necessary, so if you have the chance to see it then please do!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

BOOKS! (The Stones Cry Out + Who Will Cry for the Little Boy?)

I think I've got something good going with this doubling-up approach to reviews. Perhaps I'll keep this up until year's end and return to longer reviews after the new year (new reading goal, more time, less presure). We'll see. Both of today's books passed through someone else's hands before getting to me; I bought one at a local used book sale, and I borrowed the other from my mom.

The Stones Cry Out by Hikaru Okuizumi 

This Akutagawa Prize-winning novel is relatively short and yet manages to breeze through three decades from the ending stages of World War II to the 1960s/70s wave of student activism in Japan. The Stones Cry Out is told from the point of view of Tsuyoshi Manase, a bookshop owner who starts collecting, analyzing, cleaning and categorizing rocks as a hobby following WW2. The man who had inspired this hobby was an ailing lance corporal in Manase's ramshackle unit in the Philippines during the war, whom Manase actually killed as an order from their sword-happy captain to drop dead weight. Said lance corporal's last words were mostly hysterical babbling about rocks, and it is unclear whether Manase is genuinely inspired by this information, or if taking up the hobby is an act of penance that turned into a passion. Either way, Manase's passion for rock collecting earns him considerable renown as an amateur geologist. But as a consequence of this hobby which brings him such a strong sense of importance and fulfillment, his firstborn son dies, his wife has a mental breakdown, his marriage is rendered unsalvageable, and his connection with his younger son is almost nonexistent to the point that Manase is helpless in the wake of said son's violent rebellion as a university student. Rather than rock-collecting itself, however, what's largely at play is Manase's general disengagement from social and familial aspects of life. (We do not learn enough about his pre-war life to know if this has always been his personality or if this internal shutdown is a consequence of him not properly addressing his sordid war memories and stifled guilt.) The Stones Cry Out's title is a reference to Luke 19:40, but also happens to echo Genesis 4:10, in that often sites of violence, bloodshed, or psychological distress maintain a remnant of those events that will always make itself known. And Manase must contend with his memories before his past takes more from him than it already has.

Favorite quote:
"Manase tried to imagine what it must be like to die together with his commander, to fall under the fire of the recognizable enemy, hearing in his ears the voice that had ordained his death, spurred by the whistling of naked steel. He imagined himself in a field shrouded in a lilac haze, an infinitely tragic figure; the bullets piercing his flesh seemed to give more pleasure than pain. To shed tears because now he was about to die for the Great Cause he had heard so much about, at the same time yearning for a swift death―" (26-27).

Who Will Cry for the Little Boy? by Antwone Fisher

A man with many hats, Antwone Fisher is best known for his autobiography Finding Fish and the film that it inspired, Antwone Fisher, which was helmed by Derek Luke and Denzel Washington. He is also a poet. Fisher writes in the forward of this book of poems that poetry is a cherished pastime of his that has always brought him peace and a sense of security in himself. Most of the collection is comprised of love/relationship poems he wrote in his spare time or per his Navy friends' requests, and... it shows. Perhaps it's just me, but I wasn't really feeling any of them. There were some memorable lines, though! Maybe these poems would be well-suited for a poetry slam or an open mic; they might not do anything for me just reading them off the page, but when read aloud with the right intonation, emotion and rhythm, maybe they could be quite engaging.

Favorite quotes:
"We lived this way, and loved that way, ask anyone who had seen us" (13). 

"I must have painted you with me, more than one hundred times. I love you more than life itself, on this canvas called my mind" (37).

"Lightning strikes and thunder rolls, my eyes are damp, your heart is cold" (47).

Friday, October 28, 2016

Friendship Visions

Last night I dreamt about one of my dear college friends, Esse, whom I haven't had a real conversation with since we graduated back in May of last year. The dream wasn't so eventful, other than that she was extremely fit (fitness had become her new passion in life), and we were somehow settled in to watch some American colonial-era theatrical production, two young modern black women surrounded by colonial-looking audience members (picture white people, big ol' white wigs, lots of lace, ruffles, and wide petticoats). But anywho.

I had that dream and didn't say anything to anyone about it. Then after work today, I go to a local bookstore to blow of some steam and wait out traffic, and my phone starts vibrating. And whose name do I see on the screen when I dig my phone out of my pocket? Esse's! We had the best conversation catching up with each other, shooting the breeze, exchanging ideas about the next moves we want to make in our young lives, what we miss and don't miss (or in my case, will and won't miss) about Michigan. I didn't even have that much steam to blow off today, but nonetheless I felt such great release from chatting with her. Relieved isn't event the word.

It's Friday, I got some new books, and I got to hear the voice of one of my dearest friends. It's so nice to know that people you like still like you back. Thanks to Esse for remembering me, calling me out of the blue, affirming my "vision" from last night (haha) and making my day today!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The worst you can do is miss.

Julia teaches me something new everyday. When I was hanging out on my mom's bed yesterday and Julia wanted to join, but knew she probably didn't have enough of a running start for clearance, did that deter her? Nope! She jumped up, missed, bounced off the side of the bed, fell backward, somehow still landed on her feet, and kept it moving! Trotted right out of the room as if nothing had happened.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 15

Originally I was going to do like I always do with my J-drama reviews, but then I kept procrastinating on this one and now the fall broadcasting season in Japan has already started! I haven't even made my selections yet for this season! So I'm going to make my synopses a little more succinct this time around. I love to give y'all as much of the goods as I can about these shows, but sometimes it's best to keep it short.

 好きな人がいること (Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto/Having Someone to Love/A Girl with Three Sweethearts) - Fuji TV/2016

Misaki has been floundering at establishing herself as a pâtissier in Tokyo, and a chance run-in with her high school crush Chiaki has her living with him and his two brothers for the summer as she works in their restaurant. Chiaki's the owner/manager, his brooding and no-nonsense younger brother Kanata is the chef, and cheeky baby bro Touma is preparing to be sous chef. The "Girl with Three Sweethearts" English title is misleading, as Misaki is only caught in a love triangle with Chiaki and Kanata; Touma is simply there to throw in some angst, reveal secrets, and provide comic relief. Basically Chiaki is dumb to Misaki's feelings until finally he isn't, Kanata doesn't like her until eventually he does, and there's an ex-girlfriend thread and an extortion thread thrown in there for good measure. Yes, it has the same exact formula as 'SUMMER NUDE' and 'Koinaka' (young pretty people + love triangle + secrets + revelations + seaside location + "follow your dream/heart" + directed by Kanai Hiro). Yes, I fell for it just like I did last year and two years before that. And yes, I loved 'Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto' just as much as the others. When I studied abroad in Japan it was during the summer, so breezy dramas like this one always make me feel lighthearted and nostalgic. The show might be slightly predictable, but it's still a great ride!

せいせいするほっど、愛してる (Seiseisuru hodo, Aishiteru/Love Catharsis) - TBS/2016

This drama's title is (unintentionally?) ironic, because rather than catharsis it's just a winding road of messiness and drama. Kurihara Mia (Takei Emi) has her dream job of working in PR at the jewelry giant, Tiffany & Co. She gradually becomes infatuated with the new VP Kairi, who's actually an architect but was forced to become VP of this company as payback for his estranged wife getting into a car accident and falling into a coma (her dad is president of the company and blames Kairi for what happened). Mia and Kairi have an affair, are stupidly naive and sloppy about it, and keep acting surprised and all woe-is-me when they repeatedly get caught, confronted, and punished for it. My favorite part of this show is Kairi's wife Yuka, that right-on-time good n' crazy heifer who wakes from her coma, discovers the dirt that's being done, and always manages to step in and wreck things like, "Not today! Not on my watch!" Watch this show if you're a fan of Takei Emi (her hair and fashion game are sickening in it), enjoy cackling at scenes that are supposed to be serious, and have no pity for cheaters but are nosy enough to want to see how they end up.

はじめまして、愛しています。 (Hajimemashite, Aishiteimasu./Nice to meet you, I love you.) - TV Asahi/2016

While I'd been intrigued by its premise when I read about it, I watched this show solely for Ono Machiko ('Saikou no Rikon'). She is such a smart actress. Not only is she excellent at what she does (she can literally become anyone you want her do be, and is so convincing that you almost forget that she's played any other characters in the past), but if you look at the roles she's chosen over the years... gah, she's just so smart! I don't know how else to describe her. Anywho, time is running out for Mina's (Ono Machiko) dream of becoming a professional piano player, and she's given no thought to starting a family until she and her husband Shinji find a scraggly-looking boy hiding in their bushes. They learn that the boy was abused and abandoned and wandered to their house when he heard Mina's piano playing. With Shinji's enthusiasm and a social worker's guidance they go through the steps to adopt the boy, whom they name Hajime.  But when they're not coping with Hajime's post-traumatic behavior, fielding skepticism from their respective families, or reconciling their own insecurities about their ability to be successful parents, they face the threat of losing Hajime for good. Bloodlines and family registries are still extremely important in Japan, and adoption is not as common or celebrated as in the States. Given that, this drama taught me so much about what making another human being part of one's family truly entails. Watch 'Hajimemashite, Aishiteimasu' if you want something informative that will also tempt you to cry.

"Honorable Mention" (haven't finished yet): Kenja no Ai/A Wise Person's Love - WOWOW/2016

This 4-episode drama draws inspiration from Tanizaki Junichiro's classic novel, Naomi, a Pygmalion-eque tale in which a man grooms a young woman to be his ideal wife, only to be pitifully controlled by her in the end. The Japanese title of the novel is 痴人の愛 (Chijin no Ai/A Fool's Love), and as a nod to the book, this show is titled 賢者の愛 (Kenja no Ai/A Wise Person's Love). Mayuko is a book editor whose childhood frenemy Yuri has always taken from her what she wants for herself, including the love of Mayuko's life and her future literary client, Ryoichi. Yuri gets knocked up by him and becomes his wife, and once the baby's born godmother Mayuko names her godson Naomi (you got it, in reference to the novel) and sets in motion a plan of ultimate revenge. She'll make her godson her plaything and toy with his heart, eventually throwing it in Yuri's face. (Or at least I assume that's the goal, I'm only 2 episodes in so far.) Mayuko waits to make her move until Naomi's grown, and she's not actually attracted to him in any way, so I wouldn't call the show pedophilic. But it definitely has some unsettling predatory vibes... that's probably why it's on a cable channel. And making viewers uncomfortable is probably the point of it all anyway. 'Kenja no Ai' is shot like a movie, the minimalism in a lot of the scenes heightens the tension, and who doesn't love a vengeance story that hits below the belt? If you're a petty person who dreams of seeing moochers and users get their comeuppance, then Kenja no Ai is for you.

As far as my favorite drama from this summer goes, I have to choose 'Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto'. What can I say? The formula still works.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

BOOKS! (Darkness Visible + The House on Mango Street)

These two were part of one of my recent used book sale indulgences, and since they were both short and I've been determined to boost my "read" numbers before year's end, I read them both fairly quickly. As such, I figured I'd review them together. New books, new review, new book model (my adopted dog Julia)!

Darkness Invisible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron

I am fairly young and there remains a vast array of literature that I've yet to become acquainted with. Yet and still, thanks to the experiences I have had as a reader, I have little lists or libraries in my head of books I'd recommend to people if they ever asked me for suggestions on learning about this subject or that subject. Darkness Visible is one that I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about what depression feels like. Take last year's Boy Meets Depression by Kevin Breel, for instance. Not a stellar book but a vulnerably humble and honest one, whose merit lies in his descriptions of what it feels like to be fighting with your own mind day in and day out. Darkness Visible offers similar insights from William Styron, who's perhaps best known as the author of Sophie's Choice.

In this extended essay Styron attempts to articulate his understanding of the illness based on his own experiences in the 1980s and his observations of fellow writers, many of whom famous and personal acquaintances of his. He has the added perspective of having spent many years on both sides of the topic. Styron used to be someone who had never been depressed and thus couldn't possibly comprehend it (he is adamant about this point). Now, having crawled through his own internal torment and distortion at the time of writing, he understands its magnitude so intensely that he calls depression a grave disease with as much fatal potential as diabetes or cancer.

Unfortunately, despite how serious depression is, no one seems to know exactly where it comes from or how to heal it. There's no formula and no tried-and-true easy fix. At least this is the conclusion at which Styron has arrived after seeing a therapist, being hospitalized, and doing a heap of research on his own. None of the conventional methods or medications worked for him so much as a little time a lone, a break from the busyness and demands of his life. Rather than implying that treating depression is a hopeless cause, he simply upfront about the reality that how the illness manifests itself and the extent to which it can be treated successfully depends on the person. And unfortunately a lot of it is still up in the air, as depression continues to pose a quandary to sufferers, bystanders, caretakers, and medical professionals alike.

Favorite quote:
"In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent... If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoyingor from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to actꟷbut moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one's bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes" (62).

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

When I used to work at a bookstore we always had this novel on display and in ample supply, especially during back to school season since it's a mainstay on reading lists at various academic levels. I'd been curious, but not enough to rush to by it. When I found a couple copies lined up at a local library book sale, I figured Welp, looks like this is my chance. Drawing inspiration from Cisneros' childhood growing up in the hood in Chicago, the novel is narrated by an adolescent girl named Esperanza Cordero who's one of many Latino residents on Mango Street.

Esperanza lives in an unremarkable house, claims to have no friends, and feels so underappreciated and misunderstood that she writes stories to escape the immense loneliness and dissatisfaction she feels toward her neighborhood. She often expresses a searing and unrelenting desire for solitude, home, belonging, control, a place to hide, the means to express herself and be acknowledged, the ability to be somewhere else and someone else. As much as she dreams of fleeing, though, ironically her writings memorialize Mango Street and the people who live there, especially the women she grows up knowing. And unfortunately, the majority of young and grown women in Esperanza's life are described as being in desolate relationships with the men around them.

A number of young newlyweds are sequestered in their homes by their husbands, like Rapunzels. One of Esperanza's school friends is frequently beaten by her father for being too pretty and having the potential to run away. A new mom who has just immigrated to join her baby's father spends her days mourning the loss of connection to her home country. Esperanza seems to have one of the most functional households in the neighborhood (two stable parents, a precocious younger sister), but she is very well aware of the mistreatment and double standards that have influenced her life. Her own great-grandmother was kidnapped into marriage, and even before high school Esperanza is assaulted by men in public on more than one occasion. In a similar style to the Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, what may be mistaken as man-bashing is actually a testimony about various forms of suffering that often go unnoticed. Esperanza is determined to create the kind of life she wants without scorning where she's come from, but not before airing out her grievances.

Favorite quote:
"Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep... They teach. When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees... Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be" (73-74).