January 2010 Book Thoughts

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

This is one of my books from the list.  I had started it just before my job released for Christmas Break so I would have enough free time to dedicate to the massive 1000 page text.  Toward the end of it, the preaching became redundant.  Lucky for me, I’m a sucker for a good love story.  Had to see what happened in the end.  Overall, it is one book that I’m glad I read but I will probably never touch again.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

And old favorite.  I kind of feel like I’m cheating by adding it on here as a novel since its is more a “novella.”  The story always strikes me.  George’s unending loyalty and love toward Lenny is an amazing example of something that isn’t commonly found in today’s world.  I can’t help but get excited about the story every time I read it.  Amazing literature like this is one of the reasons I miss the classroom so much.

The Elephant Vanishes:  Stories by Haruki Murkami

The closest I’ve come to anything in comparative literature was a class in British Literature I took during my semester at Fayetteville State University after I received my BA.  Many of Murkami’s short stories went zooming over my head leaving me to sit there thinking “what just happened?”  However, the book redeemed itself with the short story named “Barn Burning.”  I had my bright light bulb that I get when I read something I would love to teach.  Did he kill her or did she just disappear?  What do you think he means by burning barns?

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

About 80 pages into this book, someone told me that what I was reading wasn’t some crazy story that Ronson pulled out of the dark, somewhat twisted recesses of his brain.  These people were real, these situations were real… this book was TRUE.  If I were a cartoon, my head would now be a mushroom cloud.  It make that old joke about “Military Intelligence” even better.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I actually have to thank Joyce for getting me to read this novella again.  For years I’ve been saying that I haven’t read it and almost with the same breath I comment that I’ve read the novel with the “Eyes of God” billboard.  No one has ever corrected me in saying that those novels are one in the same.  It is amazing how Fitzgerald can write two stories that are similar.  A husband and wife both having affairs, but somehow the husband’s seems dirtier… more wrong… than the wife’s affair.  It is because he’s pretending to have feelings for his mistress he clearly still has for his wife?  Or is it because in some strange way, we expect it from Daisy?

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore

This book actually makes me look forward to Christmas next year so I can sit and read it again.  I read it WELL past the Christmas season had ended.  Even well past the “its okay to listen to your NOW! Christmas album just one more time” period had ended.  And I did it publicly, laughing, smiling, and enjoying the hilarity that was a Christmas Terror.  I overheard one guy ask another, “Dude, what is she reading?”  So maybe… just maybe… I have created another Moore Monster out there in the world.  But more about the book!  I was afraid to read another Moore novel after Love Sucks.  What if Moore actually sucks and I just picked his best novel?  What if he’s like Dave Sedaris and kind of dwindles in funny the more books he puts out?  All I can tell you is, I’ve written down the books where some of the characters from Stupidest Angel appear and I will be visiting my library quite frequently to get my fill.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Mr. Hornby was another one of those “I loved this book… liked this book…. this book was okay…. oh crap he sucks now” kind of authors for me.  I was hooked instantly with High Fidelity.  I recommend it highly to all of the broken-hearted audiophiles in my life.  My love affair with his writing crashed with How to be Good and burned with Songbook.  Maybe I’m just growing out of British humor.  Juliet, Naked was a refreshing look back onto his “okay” days.  It wasn’t anything amazing.  It was predictable.  It poked fun at the blogging fan base of musical geniuses who have decided to become recluses.  The ending was frustrating.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Okay, if you haven’t read this book and plan on it… stop reading this review and skip to The Good Earth.

You know what?  Someone out there could have told me not to read this book alone, in the middle of the night, with my dog.  Someone could have said “wow, that book is sad.”  Give me a little warning.  You know why I picked it up?  I was watching Say Anything’s video for “Glory of Love” and remembered that part of it was from the movie.  So I grabbed it.  Someone could have given me a little nudge and said, “that was my first book dealing with death” or “isn’t it sad that she drowns?”  NO.  NO ONE WARNED ME.  I WAS THE LOSER CRYING ALONE IN MY BED AT MIDNIGHT ON A FRIDAY READING THIS STUPID BOOK.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Have you ever heard a British person doing an impersonation of an American with a British accent?  She’s an American who spend a lot of time in China, speaking like a Chinese guy thinking in English.  It was really a disjointed sound for me to truly enjoy.  But, it explores all of those wonderful things like the circle of life and the tradition of family… even the fluidity of wealth.  I’m not even sure what I was expecting.  All of the reviews I’ve seen have four and five stars, claiming that it is life changing and amazing.  Compared to the other reviews of classics, this should be one spellbinding books.  Or, perhaps, because Oprah liked it… everyone should.  It has been Oprahized.  Good book, worth reading… but definitely not worthy of the hype it has been given.

Things don’t seem to come in a balance for me.  I believe it is partly because of the way I approach things:  I tend to give all of myself over to it until I am successful or until I realize that it is a waste of time.  Unfortunately, most of the adventures I take myself on are a waste of time.

One of the goals I set out with for this year is a photography goal.  Calling it a “365 project” was a bit too enthusiastic for me.  The end of my self-portrait challenge is near and I’m not very willing to throw myself into a second year of photographs just yet.  My goal was simple:  take pictures.  So far it has been a daily thing, snapping pictures of Lucky while he does his doggie things, my bedroom in various stages of disarray, food, nature, and other things that I can photograph easily at night without an overabundance of light.  Some photographs are amazing; some are embarrassing; some just seemed like such a great idea in my head.  The project has made me conscious of how I view the world.  Above all else, maybe this was what I needed to pull from the beginning stages.

Cooking and healthy eating have come back to the forefront of my mind again.  I caught the baking bug for Christmas when I baked desserts for Christmas Eve Dinner.  Since then, I’ve indulged myself in several different recipes.  Some were successful (mmm…. White Chicken Chili) and some were nasty (the Shrimp Creole just didn’t measure up).  And now that I’m very well aware that my yearly physical is coming up and that I’m going to be told for the third or fourth time that I “really need to watch” my intake.  I’ve realized, as I skim through recipes, that I’m still very “Yankee” in my tastes for food.  My comfort food is so drastically different from what the people I’ve known most of my life consider home cooking.  I caught myself looking up a meatloaf recipe thinking, “this can’t possibly be healthy.”

With the cooking/healthy food kick comes a new obsession with Bento-ware and laptop lunches.  I love the idea of the neat little partitioned off lunch boxes full of exciting and refreshing goodness.  Flickr is full of people showing off their lunch bentos.  I want to hop on the craze, but it seems like there is a lot of work and a LOT of strange vegetables and/or fruits involved.  Polenta?  Plus, I just come home for lunch.  By the time I’ve gone to the gym, I literally have ten minutes to eat some food and get back.

A teaching position still appears to be out of my reach.  I’ve applied all over the great state of Texas hoping to hear something and have gotten nothing but rejection letters.  Sometimes you just have to think of it as a learning experience.  Especially when you call one of the places you have applied to and they simply say “there were so many applicants, we could have thrown a dart and found someone qualified.”

So, I’m continuing my hunt.  I’ve applied in random states, researched new and interesting places that I wouldn’t mind calling home.  I’ve refined my wish list for a place to live.  All the steps necessary to try to move back into a place where I belong.  All the while, the job market is doing scary things that makes me feel crazy for even wanting to try.  Nonetheless, I’ve still got a little hope for the states that have positions to fill right now.  Among the places still considering me are a few towns in Arizona, somewhere in Florida, somewhere in Tennessee, and some places in North Carolina.

Reading seems to be the one thing I keep doing in abundance.  I’ve finished seven books this month so far, read six completely.  I kind of cheated with my first book since it was so long.  I started it mid-December before the break and was able to finish it shortly after the first of the year.  I think it should COUNT as being finished, but I have to mention that it was started last year in order to feel good about it.  Still, six books is no small feat.  I am currently deep into The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.  I may finish it before the end of the month… but it is the first book so far that I’ve been tempted to put down.  I picked well so far!

Well, it is that time of the evening.  It seems like I have less and less time between when I get home (after 6 PM) and when I try to head to bed (9 PM).  I finally cleaned the kitchen and washed dishes since I had no pan to cook my noodles in tonight.  I guess that’s a good thing:  it shows I’ve been eating at home instead of going out and getting Chick-fil-a every night.  They must wonder if I’m alive.  *lol*

The past few mornings have been an odd mix of dream and reality.  Sunday morning I tried to wake up and go out for breakfast and a craft run.  The mind plays cruel, cruel tricks:  I planned on Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby, neither of which open their doors on Sunday.  Yesterday morning I woke to something that sounded like a mixture of a coyote and a hyena making is presence known in the area.  My dog decided that it needed to be an interspecies duet and howled along.  Last time I checked, coyotes didn’t live in cities and hyenas didn’t live on this continent. 

This morning followed suit perfectly.  I woke up before the alarm, showered, and picked out clothes.  And just to show you how awake I really was:  I had already walked the dog and started eating breakfast.  I found myself searching my thumb drive to make sure my lesson plans for the day were in order. 

A year ago I moved to Texas with the pretty solid plan to work whatever job I could find until I could get into teaching.  I knew finding a position mid-year would be difficult, so I remained diligent in my search and applied when I found openings.  When things didn’t work out to start the new school year as a teacher, I changed gears.  I would work on education until I found my opening.

That plan almost worked out.  I went through one semester paying exorbitant fees with the comfort of knowing I had a lease that proved I moved here in December of 2008.  Unfortunately, for my school’s records, this falls short of the necessary amount of paperwork.  I dropped out of school due to the fact that I simply can’t fathom paying over $3000 for two more classes.  Not just that, but for sub-par instruction and lackluster academia.

Now an entire year has gone by.  I’ve gone home and met with old friends from the school I worked for, ran into a few students, enjoyed the open roads that only come with living in the Sandhills, and found my purpose again.  I may have no idea where I belong in this world, but I know what I should be doing.

I turned in all of my paperwork to be reviewed for Texas credentials.  I thought perhaps that was the issue… schools refusing to look at me because I’m not credentialed in the state.  I received my paperwork back with stellar remarks and was told which tests I should take.  The lady warned:  “Don’t worry about taking the test until you have secured employment.  Much of the test has to do with classroom and would be easier once you have spent some time in a Texas classroom.”  Okay.  I can do that.

Armed with my “OK” from the SBEC, I started applying more aggressively to schools all over the state.  I’ve called a few places and inquired about potential openings.  I applied for the second time to the local high school.

Local high school sent me an email… blah blah blah “many qualified applicants” blah blah blah… “Encourage you to keep trying” blah blah blah.

In the month since I have received my stamp of approval from SBEC, I have applied and not received so much as an inquiry email from as many as seven schools.  Which leads me to my next question:  At what point in time does it shift from “Keep trying, if you are meant to do it… it will happen” to “Maybe that’s just not what you’re meant to do”?

My days sitting in this chair are numbered.  They may not be from my employer’s point of view, but they are extremely limited in my point of view.  I don’t view what I do here as important.  My passion is not here, my drive cannot adhere to the tasks, and I sincerely lack the interest.  It translates into the fact that I can feel my life being siphoned away second by second as I sit here. 

Part of it lies in the fact that I have no social skills.  Small talk is not my forte.  Even when dealing with people in positions like this one, I have no patience for small talk and “recruiting techniques.”  I came up here with a question.  I’m going to ask it, you’re going to answer it, and then I’m going to walk away.  Don’t ask me how I’m doing when you don’t really give a rat’s ass about the answer anyway.  Unfortunately, most people aren’t like that.  If you don’t ask them how they are, stand up, and shake their hand… they get offended. 

So, yes.  Wrong line of work.  Unfortunately, it appears to be the only work that will pay me right now.

I keep hoping that I’m wrong… and that one of the school systems that I forgot about will call me for an interview.  Hoping, it appears, is the only thing available for me to do in this state right now.

10DotM: Dirty!

I climb into the beat up old Honda Civic.  The whole car looks as it should after enduring the teenage years and college years of a group of lively, exuberant girls.  The back seat is draped with an old beige quilt to cover the holes made by use and rouge cigarette cherries and the ceiling has remnants of nail polish and small glow-in-the-dark star stickers.  Her windows in the back all have semi-translucent smears across the bottom half that I have to straight up to be able to see past.

We have been lucky enough for a break in the winter weather to have a day or two of sun.  Its shining through the back window, warming my back and my head.  I turn my face to the sun and breathe the fresh air.  I exhale deeply, pushing out the stale apartment air to make room for spring.  I can smell the hint of fresh blooms on the dogwood tree.

The ancient engine reluctantly charges to life, giving a few clicks before the final dedication to life.  The passenger door swings open wide and Ben climbs in.   He turns and smiles at me, then leans to her to kiss her cheek.  She smiles, returns his kiss, and coaxes the Civic into reverse.  Within moments we are gliding easily down highway, wind tugging and pulling at us.

Our hiking spot is on the outskirts of the city in a preserve.  Its a typical “save the environment” kind of park:  gravel paths, exorbitant amounts vegetation (properly labeled, of course), and minimal animal life.  They keep the ponds stocked, the piers in good repair, and citizens feeling as if they are truly experiencing what nature has to offer.

The parking lot is empty this late in the afternoon.  Most people have caught their fish, worn out their children, and drove home to tell their neighbors of their adventures in the great, wide outdoors.  We park close to an overgrown path and pile out of the car.  I stretch from the long car ride and walk ahead of the happy couple, who is currently busy entwining limbs and exchanging glances.

We usually try to stay away from the hordes of people who frequent this park.  Partially because it becomes overpopulated at important junctures and no one love crying children more than the two canoodling behind me.  Put a crying baby within fifty feet of these two and they instantly tense up and run like deer who realize those headlights are getting closer.

Almost a mile down the winding path, I could smell it.  It had the faint scent of rain and earth mixing into a joyous combination.  I put my nose to the ground and began following the tendril of scent.  The happy couple were talking animatedly with smiles on their faces, paying no attention to what was happening ahead of them.  I quickened my pace, lowered my tail, and trotted toward the intoxicating smell.

It was hidden behind some brush and down a small hill.  I carefully maneuvered down the hill until my front paws found their way into the warm putty-like earth.  I bent to breathe in the earthy smells.  My aching paws were enveloped by sun-warmed mud, the pain being pulled out by its natural healing properties.

When my paws were completely submerged, my bad hip starting squealing for attention.  I lowered it into the puddle.  Unfortunately, mud not only heals the aches of an old body but it also is one of the most slippery substances on Earth.  When I rose up out of bath nature had decided that I so desperately needed, I had mud caked in my nostrils and I could feel its grit in my mouth and on my teeth.

Since I already knew I was covered, I allowed myself a liberty that I had not enjoyed since the days of my puppyhood on the farm.  I rolled and jumped in the sweet smelling mud.  In a fit of pure joy, my tongue hung from my mouth and I yelled happily for my humans to come and join me.

When they finally came to join me in my frolicking, their faces no longer seemed entranced with each other.  They were both focused on me.  I stopped jumping and rolling and sat quietly in the middle of my own nirvana.  I could tell by the way her mouth formed a straight line, she was not nearly as happy as I had expected her to be.

They guided me by my collar the entire way back to where the car was parked, then proceeded to attack me with a green tube spouting ice cold water.  The joy and relaxation I had found in that small slice of happiness was immediately washed away by my fear of dying of the cold.  They must have seen how much I was shivering, and gave me sun-warmed towels that smelled like human sweat and old McDonald’s to dry with.

Once we returned home, I curled into my bed and drifted to sleep.  In my dreams, I met that mud puddle again and was able to run and play without fear of hoses spurting cold water.  I ran hard and yelled loudly in my own piece of heaven.

Weekly Kicker (Women on Writ): Passion and Creativity

My post passionate and creative endeavors usually begin at night.  I’ve always been somewhat of a night person.  During college, it would take me well past 10 PM to even begin writing papers.  For some reason, I am able to focus better after the sun has gone down and the stresses of the day have been tucked away.

Another time I experience the rush of creativity is when I experience another person’s astounding vision and ingenuity.  If I’ve read an incredible book, I want to write.  If i see something cute on Etsy that I can’t afford, I want to recreate it.  When I see someone using all of their creative potential, it makes me want to do the same.  It is because of this I completely understand why artistic communes were so wide spread.  Can you imagine how creative you could be surrounded by other amazing creative minds?