In Response to Book Riot – A Bella Swan Post

February 21, 2014 at 8:04 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

Kristen Stewart, actress, as Bella Swan in the Twilight Saga movies

Kristen Stewart, actress, as Bella Swan in the Twilight Saga movies

Many moons ago, I posted this.

Today, I read this.

Of course, I have something to say about it all… of course.

So here it goes:

Of course we envy Bella’s apathy.  Of course we wish we could float through life allowing everyone else to make decisions for us.  Of course.  Why? Because it’s simple.  It’s easy.  You are not responsible for your actions if you’re merely a reactor, if you function by being completely nonfunctional – always being taken care of.

Ruminate on that thought.  Embrace it.  Now revisit Bella’s story…

What if Edward had become an abusive drunk? What if her friends were not so nice or trustworthy?  What if all these fabulous adventures she just allowed to happen to her throughout the series, what if all this apathy, had come back to bite her in the butt?  Being a helpless twat doesn’t sound so awesome anymore, does it?

Ultimately, we like Bella Swan because everything worked out for her.  Her personality and choices are acceptable because there is a happy ending.  Put the same traits on someone with a not-so-happy ending and we’d blame them, shake our finger at her blatant disregard for taking care of herself and heeding wise council.

I appreciate this Book Rioter’s post about changing thoughts and opinions on a character.  I appreciate that she identifies with Bella Swan, that she envies her in some ways.  That’s her right and the beauty of books – everyone gets a little something – take what you like and leave the rest.

brokenBut me as a teenager, I think, would have found Bella just as repulsive a character as I found when I read it as a married adult.  Mainly because she was disobedient, a poor student, and was relying on the love of her life to scoop her up.  All things that a teenager probably *wants* to do, but as a teenager (more so than as an adult), I did not allow this line of thinking in myself because I saw time and time again in others how self-destructive it could be  when life spun out into the wrong direction.

I was blessed enough to actually marry the boy I loved in high school – a lot of people I knew did – but I wasn’t counting on this.  There is nothing wrong with being in love.  There is no shame in the desire of your heart to ultimately be a wife and mother.  I don’t knock that one bit.  But please, please, prepare for another scenario.

Be the best student you can be.  Train for something – learn a trade.  Be capable of paying your own bills and keeping a roof over your own head.  That is something that I didn’t get from Bella Swan, not in the slightest, not one bit.  Bella Swan expected her fantastical boy to sweep her off her feet and had no secondary plans.  This, ladies and gents, disturbs me, no matter how much I, too, may envy her apathy at times.

You don’t have to be a control freak to take control of your life and your future; and you don’t have to be apathetic to fall into the desires of your heart.

queenism

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Things I Learned in a Weekend…

February 12, 2014 at 9:39 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

… But will take longer to undo.

CommittedThis is a Part Two post to my review of Committed as well as a response to Codependent No More.

Saying “I am not in control of that” is not the same as being helpless.

Counting is not productive.

Trying harder sometimes doesn’t offer results, but rather drives you a little nuts.

 

codependent_no_moreI am allowed to have contradicting feelings as long as I am honest about both and do not bury the less favorable/ moral one.  A feeling is not a decision.  But bottling feelings and under-reacting to things that hurt your feelings can turn into a very foolish and very public behavioral issue similar to a train wreck or a volcano that kills an entire village.

“What am I to conclude when my grandmother says that the happiest decision of her life was giving up everything for her husband and children but then says – in the very next breath – that she doesn’t want me making the same choice? I’m not really sure how to reconcile this, except to believe that somehow both these statements are true and authentic, even as they seem to utterly contradict on another. I believe that a woman who has lived as long as my grandmother should be allowed some contradictions and mysteries. Like most of us, this woman contains multitudes. Besides, when it comes to the subject of women and marriage, easy conclusions are difficult to come by, and enigmas litter the road in every direction.” – from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed.

I can’t control other peoples’ thoughts and feelings.  Nor, if I’m to be honest do I want to.  What I decide for them takes away from me making healthy decisions for myself.

Other people making a decision I do not like is not a slight on me as a human.  I am still in tact.  I can say my piece in peace without expecting them to bend to my will.  In fact, I want to enjoy the freedom of talking out my feelings knowing that it does not change the outcome of life.  My words won’t make or break the world and the people in it.  I am not that powerful.  I don’t want to be that powerful.  I want other people to feel comfortable making their decisions based on what they need.  Would I like for them to consider my feelings when they choose to follow that decision? Yes.  Do I want my feelings to be the basis of their decision? No.  God, no.

What I want and what I need are allowed to be out of sync sometimes, as long as I take time to process my wants and needs in a calm manner without panic – without drama – and without superfluous descriptions.  As a writer I am apt to take a small situation and find the epic, extraordinary, or devastation in it.  As a survivor I take big things that may actually be epic, extraordinary, or devastating, and belittle them – act as though they are nothing.  (Someone dies, I roll with the punches.  Someone says something irritating, I come out swinging.  It doesn’t make sense.  It has been a long running joke among many of my friends that I’m the girl you need at a funeral.  I’m the girl you need in a physical crisis, on the battlefield even.  Put me in a room of people having a good time, and suddenly I’m twitchy.)

These are things I used to know, and for various reasons, I have lost sight of.  These are things that I need to remind myself daily, if not hourly.

So my newest truth above all – there is no shame in reading self-help books and memoirs by people who have a very different world view from yourself.  There is no shame in believing that, “this woman should not be condemned or judged for wanting what she wants.”  In fact that’s a very beautiful belief.

Finding balance is the hard part.  When does what you want step on what someone else wants and needs?  When does what you want need to be suppressed and when does it warrant being spoken?  My understanding of this balance is erratic at best.

Making a very open attempt to find this balance has been interesting too (I say this as though I’m well seasoned at the effort that I’ve been making for a whole of four days).  I am diving into all this for myself.  Go back a few blog posts and you may notice my sanity attempting to escape me.  Yet, it hasn’t just begun to calm me, it’s helped me stop and smell the roses.

Roses that, though not real physical red petals and thorny stems, are more present than I supposed.

Roses like: I actually get more done when I am busy acting instead of busy reacting.  Roses like: when I attempt to be as direct as I once was my husband attempts to woo me like he once did.  This is nice.  I’ll take that rose.  Yet, I am not being direct so that he will woo me, I am being direct because I need to be, the wooing is just a happy accident.  And, for once, wanting to be wooed doesn’t sound like an act of selfishness – it sounds like an act of being feminine.  Yes, I’ll admit that typing those words were difficult, that in that admission I nearly panicked.

I don’t have all the answers.  In fact, I have pretty much no answers.  The only answer that I do have is that I hope to be less self-destructive this year than last year.  I hope to be more open, but less vulnerable.

This year, I plan to internalize something that’s been hanging in my own Grandmother’s kitchen my whole life…

God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference.

Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet.  And, I’m not done reading this book!

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Eden’s Outcasts – A Review

March 10, 2013 at 9:18 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

January 2013 079Title: Eden’s Outcasts

Author: John Matteson

Genre: Biography/ History

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Length: 497 pages

I knew I wanted to read this book the first time I saw it at Jill’s Books in The Woodlands a few years ago.  I have loved Louisa May Alcott all my life and in the last few years I’ve really started to enjoy the art of the biography.  My best friend bought it for me on the spot because she is one of those beautiful people who doesn’t think people should be denied their bookish desires.  It wasn’t until March (a novelization of the younger years of Marmee and Mr. March) was chosen for the HPB Humble Book Club that I actually committed to sitting down with it in an attempt to understand Brooks’ portrayal of the patriarch.

*Notes about A Family in Debt*

So my review of the biography begins with Bronson Alcott’s astonishing ability to over zealously botch everything he touches.  This trait of Bronson is made overwhelmingly clear around page 181.  By this time in the biography, his utopian commune Fruitlands has failed, he has lost all his manuscripts, the house the family is living in was purchased with his wife’s inheritance, and he has completely disappointed me.  At this point in his life Bronson refused to be employed and takes up an architectural endeavor on Emerson’s land, a building that would be nicknamed “Tumbledown Hall” and “The Ruin.”  For a man portrayed as one so taken with education, he tackled projects with a whole lot of zeal and not nearly enough research.  When he did research, others’ ideas were usually disregarded in order to implement his own innovative plans.  To me, most his plans pretty much always sucked.

On the other hand, Louisa, his daughter, was exceptionally prudent.  She had an intense crush on Ralph Waldo Emerson when she was young, which I find adorable, but never shared the love letters she wrote to him.  Instead, when the crush was over, she burned them, but continued to look up to Emerson as a teacher.  Emerson would be a part of Louisa May Alcott’s life from her birth until his death.

Bronson may have failed in many things during the first half of his life, but his efforts as a father are later a solid testament to home schooling.  Matteson shares on page 182 that

“During her teen years, Louisa received essentially no formal schooling outside the home.  However, reading Dickens with her family, poring over Goethe in Emerson’s library, and scrambling through the woods with Thoreau comprised a unique education in themselves.”

Bronson Alcott, I believe, had some serious issues.  Matteson has the grace to allow you to come to this conclusion on your own before he shares the fact that mental illness did indeed run in the family and that it is likely that both Bronson and Louisa May were manic depressive or bipolar, but that there is no way to know for sure.

Bronson’s worldview was both passionate and skewed.  He established his house at Hillside (a few years before the well-known Orchard House) as an underground railroad station and fought viciously for equal political rights for African Americans.  Then in contradiction to his own actions stated that blond hair, blue eyed people were closer to God and that black men should not be allowed to reproduce.  How these beliefs reside in one human being baffles me.  It reminds me of an observation Bill Bryson made in his book The Lost Continent, where when traveling the United States he identifies a curious contradiction in American culture and race relations.  In the north, Yankees are known for their belief in equality and pretend to make no distinction between black and white in personal treatment and political issues, yet they live very segregated lives and rarely share the same neighborhood.  However, in the deep south, there is a general assumption of hatred between the two groups, but they live side by side as neighbors.

Why such dichotomy?  I find it all rather ridiculous.  In Bronson’s case, he refused to use products made by slaves and destroyed his career on the principle that even black students had a place in his school.  Kudos! But then he thinks something so crass as an idea that black men should be denied their God given right to have children.  Absurd!

I find Bronson entirely too duplicitous.  He insisted on a family commune but almost left his family to a more philosophic way of life.  He was passionate about fatherhood, but made it very difficult for his children to feel worthy of his praise.  He desired a Utopia, but in every action tore what could have been to the ground.  His ease in living off hand outs from the labor of his friends while simultaneously declining anything done honestly through the labor of animals is confusing.  It is no wonder to me that the father figure in Little Women is both absent and idolized.  The fact that Bronson went to such great lengths to have a perfect transcendental family and then refused to accept work when it was offered because he had as “yet no clear call to any work beyond [him]self,” is irritating.  The Alcotts were flooded with debt and Bronson had the means to fix it, but was too busy living in his head.

The greatest contradiction of all is that in the second half of his life he would rectify my horrible opinion of him…

*Notes about An Authoress*

The thing I love most about biographies is the same thing I love about “bookish” books – they provide lists, a more diverse reading experience.  While reading Eden’s Outcasts, the biographer periodically offered reviews and insightful critiques to Alcott’s little known works.  So while reading her biography, I was also led to read specific stories out of A Whisper in the Dark, like Love and Self-Love.  It also led me to desire to seek out a piece called Hospital Sketches.

Matteson continues to offer literary criticism on many of Alcott’s publications and goes into a lengthy discussion of An Old Fashioned Girl.  It is during this portion of the biography that Bronson has redeemed himself as a father in my eyes.  At this point he was quietly living at Orchard House in between traveling and making his money.  His ideals were far less irritating later in life than when he had a poor young family to support, because at this point Louisa’s fame had made the entire Alcott family debt free.  This success and income is also what finally made Bronson a more supportive father who spent many of Louisa’s later years doting on her and praising her success.

This age old story of the parent-child relationship reminds me of a Bill Cosby sketch where he laments his parents as grandparents.

“I’ve never seen such a turn around in all my life […] That’s not the same woman I grew up with; you’re looking at an old person who’s trying to get into heaven now.” (watch the whole sketch here)

In the story An Old Fashioned Girl, Alcott actually praises her father by inferring that,

“Shaw’s offspring would need less reforming if he had given them more of his time and less of an allowance.”

Matteson continues to say,

“Louisa goes to far as to suggest that a well-provided childhood is a hindrance to happiness and achievement.”

This is a much different sentiment than that during the aftermath of Bronson’s failed Fruitlands.  Mostly proud father, but partly opportunist, Bronson wrote, “I am introduced as the father of Little Women, and I am riding in the chariot of glory wherever I go.”  Bronson may have begun to be capable of providing for his wife and family, but only because Louisa made it possible with her fame.

As Matteson picks apart Alcott’s life and novels, he states:

“As is more than once the case with Alcott, the fiction teasingly invites speculation that the surviving facts can neither confirm nor dispel.” – pg. 382

Of her own fame, Alcott said: “I asked for bread and got a stone, – in the shape of a pedestal.”

*What it all Means to Me…*

All in all Matteson’s biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father is the most well-written and thorough biography I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  I hung on every word.

All the detailed family relationships, the well thought out literary critiques, and little factoids like the fact that Louisa was the first Concord woman to register to vote, made the whole book a joy to read.

Above all, I am pleased that Matteson has finally put into words a truth that has been part of my own beliefs since childhood when I first read most of Alcott’s work.  Without reading Matteson’s biography I may have never come to understand a piece of myself and where aspects of my own worldview were initially formed.  It seems that my ideas regarding feminism may be largely attributed to what Louisa imparted to me through her novels, as our views are nearly identical.

Louisa’s ideas call for

“each person, male and female to cultivate his or her talents without regard to sex, so that each may optimally serve the community.”

Matteson also says that

“Louisa remained true to the ideals of her mentor Emerson, who, as William James observed, believed that ‘no position is insignificant, if the life that fills it out be only genuine.’  Louisa was hostile to any limitation on women’s opportunities.  Nevertheless, she would have been mystified by any feminist credo that implicitly valued traditionally masculine pursuits above the conventionally feminine.” – pg. 419

Whether you want to be a doctor or stay home and bake pies, male or female – just do it well.

I could not agree more.

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A Book Club Possessed…

November 6, 2012 at 6:06 am (Events, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

… by the power of the words of A.S. Byatt.

    

I already shared with you my thoughts on A.S. Byatt’s Possession, how the novel leaves me overwhelmed with inadequacy.  But tonight, at the Half Price Books Humble monthly Book Club meeting, I got to discuss with others how it made them feel.

Over a strawberry cream cheese coffee cake, we talked a lot about French mythology, feminism, the Victorian era, the roaring twenties (a discussion that branched out of our feminism discussion), human nature, and more.

There is so much to talk about in this book, so much material, so many memorable quotes, I found it exhilarating that the things I wanted to discuss were things someone else wanted to discuss too.  When I asked about favorite quotes from the book, a typical book clubbish question, it was exciting to see that Henry had underlined the same quote on page 39 that I had.  What are the odds?

“It’s an odd affair – tragedy and romance and symbolism rampant all over it […]”

The quote is about the fabricated poet Christabel LaMotte and her poem about Melusina, and in hindsight it doesn’t necessarily stand out that much from the other wonderful quotes to be found in the book.  However, it is so close to the beginning that you wouldn’t know that so many amazing bits of prose are to come.  I think I had initially underlined it, supposing (correctly) that it would equally describe Christabel’s poem and Byatt’s work as a whole.  There is tragedy.  There is romance.  And the symbolism is rampant all over it.

The idea of cleanliness, purity, and the color white intermingle with Victorian era ideology while also contrasting against the deviance of feminism in bold greens, crimsons, plums, and blues.

What is so interesting about all this symbolism with color, is that like it’s themes, that the white and the color overlap so effortlessly, so surprisingly, when the final work is complete it is hard to decide where you would want to end up – with the pure white? or the passionate color?  It seems as though to be complete, there would need to be both.

There’s an essay floating about in cyberspace written by a Stephen Dondershine titled Color and Identity in A.S. Byatt’s Possession.  In it, he talks of the book being just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting and quotes Raymond Watkinson”s Pre-Raphaelite Art and Design:

One of the marks of the finest Pre-Raphaelite work was, and still is, the exciting and disturbing power of its colour — very much the least naturalistic aspect of the new painting. The painters of the Brotherhood, and their associates, went beyond the frank record of the green trees and grasses, the bright pure hues of flowers, and reintroduced into painting ranges and relations of colour unused in European art since the Middle Ages — an alarming array of blues, greens, violets, purples, used not simply because they were there to be painted, but chosen for their powerful emotional effect. It was not of course simply the colours, but their combination, that compelled and provoked these effects.

Dondershine stresses the word combination with good reason.  Would any of these paintings speak to us visually and emotionally even half as well if the lights and darks were not so opposite and vibrant?  If the color was not so colorful and rich, if the white was not so stark?

     

Would Maude be so fascinating if she wasn’t so broken by Fergus? Would Christabel’s story be quite so passionately romantic if she hadn’t been a virgin before Ash? Would the story have meant so much if their love hadn’t been somewhat forbidden?  At the same time, doesn’t her fate make you think twice about her rash haste to be independent?  Doesn’t the idea of freedom being found within the safety and confines of a marriage, a partnership become solidified when viewed in the severe contrast of Christabel’s dependency on her cousin later in life… when seen how famously Roland and Maude get along?

Then there is Melusina.  Melusina, the story actually being described in that oh so telling page 39 quote.  I had never heard of Melusina until this book.  I am now completely captivated by the French version of the Scots selkies, the Ondines/Undines of the world; except instead of being a beautiful and gentle seal-woman, Melusina is a serpent of the water-sprite variety.  Now, of course, I am dying to get my hands on a compilation of French myths, equipped with illustrations throughout history, of course!

All in all, it was an exciting meeting, and left me much to ponder. I cannot wait until next month’s gathering when we will discuss Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shoppe.

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