My Trip to Atlanta – Part One

September 11, 2016 at 5:27 pm (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

IMG_1269.JPGMy trip to Atlanta was exhilarating. I navigated two airports, a train system, and bus routes – all things I have not done in a long, long time.  I learned about five square miles of a city I’d never been to by walking.  Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because I was hopelessly lost.  Traveling with a flip phone in a smart phone society is a whole different ball game than traveling an unknown city in the days of payphones and paper maps. People saw me holding a real map and not utilizing GPS and there was much commentary, and confusion by others on how to read it as it doesn’t flip itself around and identify your location for you.  Even now, the word processor is telling me that the word payphone can not be pluralized.  (When did that become a thing?)  But I’m fairly certain there’s no other way to describe more than one.

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My Pet Rock. I patted it every day on my walk to the AmericasMart.

I was pretty excited about the MARTA rail system.  I’ve missed riding the rail since I moved from Dallas. Public transportation, once the stop points are identified and times committed to memory, are so much more relaxing than driving.  I like being able to read on daily commutes, I like the safety of not risking car crashes.  I like knowing that if I begin my journey at such-n-such time I am guaranteed to arrive at my destination at another specific time – down to the minute.  Atlanta excels at this. The bus route, however, is a whole other ballgame that got me pretty flustered.  The buses sort of arrive when they feel like it, the stops are relative, and the entire route based on the driver’s mood.

Everyone is very polite, though, even when they are offering you drugs.  I thought, as a Texan, that I understood southern hospitality.  When it comes to Good Mornings, sweet smiles, and a general attitude of helpfulness – we’ve got nothing on Georgia.  Any half puzzled look on your face will immediately result in someone stopping to help.  Stand at a stop too long and someone will inevitably ask you which bus you’re trying to catch and inform you, “Oh sometimes that driver likes to stop on that side of the street, be sure you check over there too or you might miss it.”  Smiles abound, even in the early morning pre-coffee grog.

I went to Atlanta to work the Wordfire Press booth at DragonCon. Convention people are exactly what I expected, after doing Comicpalooza and OwlCon in Houston, it’s pretty much the same routine, just bigger and takes up the whole downtown area instead of one convention center.  But outside the realm of the Con, everything was incredibly foreign.  I felt like I had stepped into how I imagine the 1950’s in a lot of ways, and once three blocks away from the convention hotels and gathering areas, I’ve never been reminded so often of how white I am. Politely, but with bafflement.

Houston is a melting pot. Our segregation occurs on the socioeconomic level, rather than a race level.  Latinos, Blacks, and Rednecks all live next to each other as long as they belong in the same tax bracket.  I didn’t see a lot of Atlanta, but I got the sense that things aren’t that way there.  So many times I was asked, “What’s a white girl doing on this street? You lost?” Or, the most bizarre, “Why you so comfortable talking to a black man? Is your husband black?”  At that question I retorted, “Should I be scared of you?”  “No, but these other niggers around here are cut-throat. You need to watch yourself.”  I felt like a child being reprimanded for not knowing the rules, especially when literally everyone I talked to was so very kind.  Yet, there I was a block the other side of Five Points, getting questioning glances from people who thought I was too pale to tread on their turf.  “You lost, baby? You don’t belong here.”  Or when I went to The Underground below the wrong CVS: “No, honey, you shouldn’t be down here, go up and get back to Peachtree as quick as you can, that’s where your people are,” before I even mentioned I was trying to meet anyone.

The whole experience was eye-opening and disheartening.  I enjoyed every conversation I had, even the fellow who offered me crack was very polite and concerned, keeping his distance when addressing me.  Is all of Atlanta that way, or just those neighborhoods?  Why was everyone so separate?

In my perfect world, I want to notice how much darker your skin is than mine. I want to acknowledge that freckles on you look entirely different than freckles on me. Deep, dark skin catches my eye, as a prisma color artist I am enthralled by skin tones that involve so many undertones of purple.  I want to listen to deep, milky voices bellow soul music, and that be ok. I don’t mind you calling me “white girl” but if I describe you as a black man or woman, I would like for you to not be offended.  We are different in so many beautiful ways.  To say we don’t see color is a disservice to the amazing people God created, like not noticing the difference between a sapphire and an emerald.  But we are also both human, we have troubles and trials, we have cultures we sometimes share and sometimes don’t.  I’ve never been so grateful to have grown up in Houston, where we all live side by side, work together, grow together, and learn together.  Houston has its own problems for sure, but I think we all have a cohesive love for our city and for Texas that keeps us pretty united.

I hope to visit Atlanta again.  I hope to branch out farther and see what the city as a whole is truly like, as opposed to the downtown areas I was restricted to for the duration of my stay. It has so many lovely parts and many beautiful people.

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Papyrus – truly a thriller

January 21, 2014 at 3:08 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

papyrusTitle: Papyrus

Author: John Oehler

Genre: Suspense, Historical Fiction

Length: 326 pages

I’ve wanted to read this book since the second I saw its cover.  Mainly because John Oehler wrote it and I really enjoy his writing.   I read and reviewed Aphrodesia awhile back and I swear I blushed for a month, so I knew Oehler’s writing was phenomenal.  Add my obsession for all things Egyptian, and I was completely sold.

Many times this level of anticipation won’t work out well for a reader.  There’s too much pressure on the book.  How could it possibly live up?

Papyrus took my expectations in stride and out did itself.

Historical fiction all the way, there are still two different timelines – the ancient past (the 18th Dynasty of Egypt) and the not so ancient past (1977, during the war between Eritrea and Ethiopa).  I enjoyed the banter and flirtation between these timelines and the story.  It was woven together well and never missed a beat or left the reader feeling out of sorts with the rhythm of the tale.

In 1977, Oehler’s Rika Teferi is both a scholar and a warrior of Eritrea.  This was an attribute so enticing for my black belt and book nerdy self that I spent two hours in a local Starbucks devouring this book instead of watching the Broncos beat the Patriots on Sunday.  I loved her for her strength, her beauty, and ultimately for her intelligence.

Dive into ancient Egypt and Queen Tiye is completely riveting, especially since most my academic studies have focused on Hatshepsut and Nefertiti.  It was refreshing to have Akhenaten’s mother be the focus, as I don’t think she is as common a fictional pursuit as other Eqyptian Queens.  (The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Pauline Gedge’s The Twelfth Transforming – also stellar writing, but I was apparently so disappointed with the story it seems I have given that title away.)  I do not own any nonfiction work devoted primarily to Tiye either, but Oehler’s version of her offered a pretty tempting reason to go find some.

As always Oehler handles the story arch with such grace and ease – I am jealous.  He writes stories where things happen. Not just anything, but powerful and exciting things.  Foreign countries, different times, bombs, planes, diplomats, ancient manuscripts, tombs, revolutionaries, romance…!  His books are award winners with good reason and he is one of Houston’s best kept secrets.  It is amazing to me that this was Oehler’s first novel.

tyre44

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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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Blasted Book Bouncing

September 3, 2012 at 3:42 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have a tendency to bounce from book to book.  I read a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Many times I sit and read one book in one sitting, but all the books that don’t get read with such vigor are subject to months on end of a chapter here and a chapter there.

Today, I polished off Cassandra Clare’s City of Lost Souls, and while the kiddo napped sat down with a pile of my ‘bouncing’ books.  I started by picking up Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World.  I read a few chapters of this throughout the week, and plan to have it completed by the end of the year so that I can spend 2013 reading the sequel The History of the Medieval World.  Bauer provides excellent histories, educational guides, and other lovely lists, and at any given time there is something written by her sitting on my coffee table with a bookmark or post it note precariously shoved in its pages.

After 30 minutes or so with Bauer, I meandered over to my lit crit shelf and plucked up a copy of The Bookaholics’ Guide to Book Blogs.  As I am a book blogger, you can only guess why this one moved me at the bookstore.  Today of all days, I chose to read it because the bookmark for The History of the Ancient World was in fact the Half Price Books receipt that I received upon its purchase.  My slightly unfocused brain had begun to peruse the receipt when I decided I was done with history for the day and spotted a ‘Bookaholics’ Guide to Book’ item for which I paid 80 cents.  Of course, this piqued my interest and was the initial cause for drifting over to the lit crit shelf.

The Bookaholics’ Guide is lovely and when I am finished reading it, I shall post a full review worthy of a book dedicated to praising book reviewers.  But for now, though entirely riveted and already 50 pages in – I am also distracted.  Why? Because while reading about all these wonderful blogs and their dedication to their reading and writing and reviewing, there is a portion entirely devoted to the discussion of how tragedies always seem to win over comedies.  That got my brain thinking back to the lovely Susan Wise Bauer and the list of novels she provides in The Well-Educated Mind, of which I am approximately six novels away from completing – Finally!

So of course, in my blasted book bouncing fashion, I pick up the book I am currently reading on the list: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  I read Chapter One the other day and immediately texted my kindergarten best friend who was an African-American Studies major during her undergrad years, that so far I loved it.  (Because unfortunately, I hated reading Native Son by Richard Wright, despite the great skill involved in his story telling, and have been feeling incredibly guilty about it.)  Of course, in the midst of being made painfully aware of the sad fact that as a human race we are enraptured by tragedies, I became engrossed in Chapter Two of Invisible Man and nearly died of the overwhelming coincidence.

*SPOILERS*

If you have not read Invisible Man, I suggest you read no further.  Unless, you are of the variety of readers who don’t care about spoilers, and then I may cheerfully say, read on.

Chapter Two includes the lengthy tale of Jim Trueblood, a man who has fathered a child with his wife as well as his own grandchild with his daughter in roughly the same time period.  I have not yet read beyond Chapter Two, therefore cannot share with you the relevance to the Invisible Man’s story, or the book as a whole, but I can say that I felt ill after reading it.

Poor, oh poor Jim Trueblood (I say with intense sarcasm), who rolled over on his daughter while sleeping and having an odd dream, inserting his penis into her and *accidentally* fathered her child – to everyone’s horror.

Really?! Really!?

Of course, I must read on to discover the significance of it all.  But I really don’t want to.

1. If your daughter is that old, she should not be sleeping between her two parents.  I don’t care how poor you are.  Put the child on the other side of the mother.  That’s just common sense.  What teenaged daughter wants to sleep between her two parents anyway?

2. I don’t know if I’m supposed to believe Jim Trueblood at this point or not, but I’m with the protagonist on this one – why the hell did Jim Trueblood get a hundred-dollar bill for knocking up his own daughter!? Its absurd.  I have a hard time believing that people behave(d) this way.

3. I have a hard time buying this story in the light of the symbolism it supposedly represents: http://students.cis.uab.edu/archived/dlam/Jim%20Trueblood.html, but I look forward to seeing if the rest of the novel makes these proposals more clear.  I’ve a huge soft spot for The Great Gatsby and The Natural, so you can imagine how much I adore symbolism.

4. So far, the only African-American/ Black (depending on your version of what is politically correct) fiction that I have ever truly appreciated in my entire life has been the young adult Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry series by Mildred D. Taylor and ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, which also manages to be my all-time favorite collection of short stories ever.  (I am always on the look out for something spectacular, though, so please, leave suggestions in the comment area!)

You see, the thing is, I hate reading a book and feeling like the sole purpose is to make me pity the protagonist.  Mostly, because I think pity is the ultimate form of disrespect.  Why would I want to read a character that I have no respect for?  No matter how under the dog, one should not pity the protagonist nor hate them.  One shouldn’t see them as less than themselves.  I want to read about a fight for equality with some umph.  I want to see them prevail over adversity, not wallow in their plight.  The things I disliked about Native Son are the same things I disliked about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, drastically different books that don’t belong anywhere near each other in a bookstore, but they managed to give me the same level of frustration.  One wallows in the errors of his situation and falls deeper and deeper into despair and ignorance, while the other wallows in the errors her life choices and falls deeper and deeper into entitlement.  Both seem to ask me to feel sorry for their nature.

These are the views the politically correct call me racist over, but I assure you that I have great respect for people of every color, culture, generation, and walk of life.  Sometimes, I wish they had a little more respect for themselves.  Just remember, never fight the good fight with a plea for pity – its a huge turn off.

Granted, I have only just finished Chapter Two… there is yet more to the story to discover.  I hope it lives up to its classic reputation.  I don’t want my distaste for unrelated titles to taint my views as I read this work.

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