Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rereading L'Engle

"When we read stories like L’Engle’s as adults, we are in many ways handicapped. They’re a tougher sell than they were when we read them in our youth, because a lot of us have lost that faith. We do not believe life is always worth the struggle. We fear that relationships aren’t worth the pain. Or, like Zachary Grey, we’re bored with life — “So bored it hurts like a toothache.” We lack the childlike trust, the sense of wonder it takes to enter into the kingdom of a book. I believe that’s related somehow to the reluctance we sometimes have to enter fully into our own, present lives." - Sarah Zarr in the LA Review of Books
This whole essay is a beautiful piece of writing.  It's insightful and lovely, warm and distinct.  It makes me want to reread books and bump up the item on my to do list that says, "Read everything L'Engle ever wrote."  It's specific and general at the same time.  (Genius, I tell you.  It should be in textbooks!)  As long as you read books as a child or teen and have ever gone back and reread them later, even if you haven't read any of the books about the Austins, this essay will still make sense.  (Of course, if you are familiar with L'Engle's work, it will be even more spectacular.)

One of the things I love about rereading books is that sometimes they are completely different books because I am a completely different person.  The Vorkosigan Saga is like that for me.  (For example, the first few times I read the novella "Borders of Infinity, " I thought it was good.  Then there was this one time in grad school when I read it, and it was just brilliant and transcendent.  And it stayed so for several years after that.)  And Ender's Game.  And the Bible (particular books).

I suspect this kind of wrestling with the text when you are a different person in a different place is easier if the books are "adult" books even if you first read them as a 12-year-old.  I agree that L'Engle always put a tremendous amount of faith in her readers.  I didn't really feel talked down to, whether I was reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet or Meet the Austins. But there is still a slight difference in the experience of going back to read them again as an older person.  Zarr really captures some of that in her essay.

And Wikipedia wants us all to know that "In 2013, a crater on Mercury was named after L'Engle."

Got milk (substitutes)?

In case you are looking for a milk substitute, I figured I'd give you some helpful notes from my search.  All of my attempts were original flavors, unsweetened whenever possible.  I tried drinking it straight, putting it in cereal, and putting it in tea.

GENERAL NOTES: If you really are going to use something in place of dairy in your diet, be sure it's fortified with vitamins A&D and has a similar amount of calcium and stuff (or that you are definitely getting these materials through some other foods you have introduced into your diet).  Also, these will not have the taste or consistency of milk at all, so do not expect them to, or your taste buds and gag reflex may hate you.
  • Almond milk: What a vile substance this was.  Sure, you can get it sweetened, but I figured if I could also cut some sugar out of my diet, that would be better.  It's actually pretty good as a creamer in hot beverages.
  • Rice milk: Even the unsweetened kind tastes slightly sweet.  It's a different kind of sweet from dairy milk, but it's not the pure vileness that was the almond milk.  Because I've broken my nose a lot, I don't have a great sense of taste, so maybe these things will taste much sweeter to you.  That's what makes experimenting interesting.  Winner!
  • Coconut milk: Bleh.  Thick and sludgy-oily.  Gross straight and in cereal.  Not too bad in hot beverages, but I need something a bit more versatile if I can find it.
  • Oat milk: Have you ever eaten Cheerios?  You know the milk that's left in the bottom of the bowl?  Oat milk, unsurprisingly, tastes a lot like that only with less grit and oat dust to choke on.  This kind (if made from whole grain oats) contains fiber, too.  Great on oat-based cereal, not too bad straight, not awesome as a creamer for mint-based hot beverages.
  • Hemp milk: I was glad to find that drinking this was not like licking a rope.  (Ropes used to be made out of hemp, sometimes.)  Thicker and a bit oilier than others, this one contains ALA Omega 3+6 oils, which are good for you if you, like me, really don't get enough of them and thus should be a dry and shriveled wad.  Sort of meh in all categories, but, well, I still can only gag down one kind of fish, so I will keep it in the repertoire for that.  It actually tasted good on whole grain granola that had hemp seeds in it. 
  • Whole Grain Rice milk: A bit thicker than the regular rice milk because it has fiber.  It also tastes less sweet/polished to me.
IN CONCLUSION: Whole Grain Rice, Hemp, and Oat are in the rotation.  I keep a carton at work for tea and after-exercising when I just need to chug a cold beverage.  The other one I keep at home for cereal.  They only tend to stay fresh for 7-10 days after they're opened, so it can be a juggling act (I can't really smell when they go bad, so I just have to write the date on them and try to finish in a week) not to waste any.

I don't really cook, so I have no idea how these do in recipes as milk substitutes, so if anyone's had any experience with that, please share.  : )  Have you tried any of these?  Any ones you've tried that I've missed?  What were your reactions?

On eating healthier

I have been trying to change my diet and eat healthier for the past year.  The problem is that once you start eating healthy, it's hard to stop.  I mean, once your body gets used to processing more real food, it's kind of bitter when you offer it anything else.  And you are the one who is justly punished.

On the other hand, it's not like starting to eat healthier food is all sunshine and roses.  It can make you feel equally sick, and you really have to do it in a slow, organized, and scientific way, so you can figure out what healthy things don't agree with you.  Swapping out or introducing one new thing a week is a really doable pace, and it can keep you from feeling sicker instead of better without knowing the cause. 

For instance, if you start eating a new cereal, adding a new kind of seed to it, and trying a new milk-substitute at the same time, you have no idea which of these things is making you feel violently ill.  It doesn't help when your short-term memory is shot, meaning you feel terrible in the same way for three days before you notice and realize and start trying to deduce what is causing the problem.  (It was the seed.)

Eat more healthy foods!  But enjoy them responsibly.  That way, you'll be able to figure out what really makes you more healthy.

Not "just escapism"

" . . .through the heart of the accusation that fantastic stories are “just escapism”: “Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?” - Tolkien
"For the growing number of people who believe there is no world outside our present prison, any talk of sunshine, meadows, and mountains has to be plain denial, a way of fooling ourselves about our true situation. Materialists who write about Magic are likely (though not certain) to write about it badly. They shouldn’t try it, for the same reason a Christian shouldn’t try writing porn. It’s hard to do well something you despise." - Lars Walker in "The Christian Fantasy"
I like that he qualifies it "likely (though not certain)."  At first, I didn't realize he had, and I thought, "That seems to require a kind of consistency of thought and action that humans are generally not great at."

Anyone read Walker's book? Be sure to check out the full article (or at least the comments, if you're looking for some good suggestions of what to read next).

Ender's Game Movie coming your way

They are making an Ender's Game movie.  It's coming out in my birth month, making this about the 5th year in a row that I will get a very interesting birthday treat.  The filmmakers in one article I read assured the readers that the creators are going to be sure the movie faithfully contains all the brutality readers have come to love the book for.  I must admit that this really took me aback because I don't love Ender's Game for the brutality.  Maybe this is because I am a Girl, but I doubt it.  Anyone who's in it for the brutality would get bored by all the other things I love about it like the characters and the bright flashes of humor and beauty and the moral quandries.  The brutality was horrific and startling and pretty much soul-crushing because of the way the story was told and the knowledge we had that Ender didn't.

Obviously this movie is not going to contain all of Ender's Game. They're very up-front about the fact that very little of the content comes from the book.  You would need a full TV series-length work to try to produce the book.  (One of the reasons I always wanted it to be made into an anime series.)  And the movie is also going to contain aspects of Ender's Shadow.  Somehow.  This seems like a bad idea to me because if you're going to hack out people's favorite scenes and truncate the timelines for one movie, trying to cram in another book's worth of character development will be difficult.  (Which is why I wish they'd done the Lord of the Rings thing and filmed two movies at the same time, but they are not made of money, and they have to realize that the chances of the fanboys hating on this until it dies young and in debt are pretty much guaranteed.)  I'm interested to see what kind of hybrid monster this becomes.

I am setting my expectations on Tank.  If my expectations are low enough, I can usually enjoy almost anything.  But the CGI in the promo poster makes me think I may need a new sublevel for low expectations . . .  I set my expectations low, but I pray that they make something powerful and coherent, dark and bitter but ultimately not devoid of hope.

What are your thoughts about the movie?  And what made you like the book?

Farewell to another tree I loved

I need to stop getting attached to particular trees because when I do, and they are suddenly maimed to make room for more power lines or turned into a pile of mulch on the side of the road one day because they were in the way of the bulldozers that need to get to the golf course, I take it a little too personally and am mopey at work.  Symbols are powerful things, even if they exist only in one person's head.  RIP, beautiful tree I never identified, with one half dead and the other half alive.  I was looking forward to seeing how creatively you bloomed this spring.  Now I'll have a reconfigured golf course to look forward to driving past every morning as construction season begins.  It won't be the same without you hanging in there every morning to make my resolve firmer.  You will be missed.

When a literary festival takes over your month

I was a reader at the first reading of a month-long literary festival, and it has been taking over my life.  It was organized by a friend of mine, and he's invited a truly staggering number of mutual acquaintances to take part.  This means I have been spending a lot of time in coffee shops around the area hearing writers I already liked and finding new writers I've never heard before.  It also means I haven't been home most evenings to write for my blogs.  I feel like a real slacker.  But I've been writing a lot.

Hearing numerous voices in all sorts of genres does that to me: it makes me pay attention to the words of others, and it makes my brain fizz with words and ideas and forms and topics I want to write about.  Hearing new work from writers I know makes me feel more a part of a community.  I talk to people I haven't seen since that class 6 years ago.  (Okay, mostly I think about talking to them.)  I am inspired again by the things that are important in their lives, the things they write and think about, and the ways they share these things with the world.

And the new voices.  That hilarious zombie piece by the guy in his 70s, the music of spoken word poets from Guinea, that essay about why fiction writers suck at life, or the piece about the travails of being a thug-ish husband forced to wear a shirt with sleeves when being dragged along by his wife to meet the potential Doula (he got ice cream as a reward).  The voices all swirl together.

There is not a single reader who has left me without some phrase or image to write down and mull over.  This is a feast, and I am thankful for its bounty.  So I may lie a bit and back date some of the posts for this month that are based on what I wrote in my notebook but never put in here.  Indulge me.  This dream world will only last for a couple more weeks, and then I will be left with the memories and the notes and the urge to read and think and edit and write, which can only be a benefit here, right?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Getting ready for a reading

Getting ready for a reading is always an interesting experience.  On the one hand, you get to read through your old writing and discover pieces you forgot about or find new meaning in your words now that time has passed and you are older and wiser (or at least older).  On the other hand, you have to read through your old writing, and you usually conclude that you are a total hack and nothing you have ever written is any good at all and you are a total failure and everybody at the reading will be better, and you will be there to serve as an example to others or a foil to provide excellent contrast to the REAL writers.  The best and worst parts of writing and being a writer, right there. 

So I sit here, printing out pieces new and old, trying to construct a tiny book with a purposeful order and flow from one random piece to the next.  It's like a tiny puzzle only your inner editor is in full backseat driver mode and suddenly just really wants to edit everything even though she's been dragging her feet for months when you've wanted her to do that editing.  Now, when it is not time for editing, now is when she is rarin' to go.  So contrary.  Where on Earth did she get that from?  Ahem.

And so, I will choose pieces to fit this time slot and keep a few extra in case the mood is lighter or darker than the main ones I have chosen.  And I will ignore the inner editor as much as I can because the lighting in coffee shop readings is usually dim, and it's hard to read chicken scratch notes you made on your paper when you're in front of people and wound tight anyway.  And I will discover new things to change and edit as I read out loud in front of people because that's how it works for me, and that means every reading is an opportunity to improve pieces I like and make them even better.  This is what I will tell myself because it is true and because I love to write and like to read and share stories with other people.  This will be another good reading.