Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Other Desert Island Book

I’ve already told you that if I had to be stuck on a desert island, and couldn’t bring along a how-to-get-off-a-desert-island book, I’d bring Jane Eyre for the good company it has always provided me.  But, if given a bigger backpack and the luxury of a second choice, I’d also bring the best Jane Eyre companion book ever – Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.  If you haven’t read it, you must.  If you love Jane Eyre, you’ll never be the same after also reading Wide Sargasso Sea, which is essentially Bertha’s story.  Told from the perspective of the woman destined to become the quintessential madwoman in the attic, and from the perspective of an unnamed male narrator (presumably Mr. Rochester), Rhys’s gorgeous, lush novella deepens the questions about society, gender and relationships that Charlotte Brontë’s book begins.  And for those of you who are already fans, let’s vote for the next possible spin-off (perhaps to be written by one of us?).  After gorging on Jane and Antoinette (Bertha) in the above-mentioned desert island books, which Jane Eyre or Wide Sargasso Sea character would you also love to hear from?  Grace Poole?  Christophine?  Céline Varens?  Amélie?  I know . . . choices, choice, choices!

Monday, September 26, 2011

National Punctuation Day

I’m a bit behind, apparently, in wishing everyone Happy National Punctuation Day (which was Saturday).  What’s that?  Good question.  It’s only been on the books for six years, hasn’t become a Hallmark holiday yet, but might be worth exploring.  Punctuation Day creator Jeff Rubin, from California, said he started the day to instruct about the good manners of proper punctuation and to allow for venting of punctuation pet peeves.  His website is full of funny examples of wrongly punctuated statements, like a sign for a day care center called “Diane’s Play Pen for Little Genius’s.”  <Shudder> 

I remember one of my teachers asking our class, “Doesn’t anyone know anything about commas?  It looks like you grab a handful of them and throw them at your finished essays and where they land is where they land.”  Yes, I’m still traumatized!  J  (Which makes me wonder if perhaps I overuse exclamation marks, parenthesis, and/or emoticons and slash marks.)  Perhaps I should utilize a semi-colon or two instead of allowing fragments to “pepper” my work.  ;)  Ha!  (Sorry.)

What are your irritants?  Using quotations marks to connote irony?  Misplaced apostrophes?  Colons?  Dashes?  Hyphens used as dashes?  This is your moment to vent, my friends.  And, don’t worry if you use incorrect punctuation – I’m sure someone will be happy to correct you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Emily Dickinson & Fanny Fern: Soul Sisters?

Some scholars maintain that Emily Dickinson was familiar with Fanny Fern’s writing.  Frankly, being alive and breathing in the 1850s and 60s meant you were probably familiar with Fanny Fern’s writing.  So, while it is no surprise that Dickinson had likely read Fern’s work and likely discussed that work with others, less is known, of course, about Dickinson’s possible poetic reaction to Fern’s often provocative newspaper columns and novels.  Some scholars have posited that Dickinson might have penned her poem “I’m Wife” after reading Fern’s work, especially given Fern’s staunch views about (traditional 1850s-style) marriage being “the hardest way to get a living.”  On the other hand, Dickinson was quite the forward thinker herself and perhaps didn’t need a bit of outside influence to inspire her artistry.  Take a look yourself.  Do you see any Fanny Fern in Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Wife”? 

I'm "wife" -- I've finished that --
That other state --
I'm Czar -- I'm "Woman" now --
It's safer so --

How odd the Girl's life looks
Behind this soft Eclipse --
I think that Earth feels so
To folks in Heaven -- now --

This being comfort -- then
That other kind -- was pain --
But why compare?
I'm "Wife"! Stop there!

Compare Dickinson’s poem to Fern’s famous lines in the Olive Branch on Aug. 28, 1852:

Fanny Fern
"Never mind back aches, and side aches, and head aches, and dropsical complaints, and smoky chimneys, and old coats, and young babies! Smile! It flatters your husband. He wants to be considered the source of your happiness, whether he was baptized Nero or Moses! Your mind never being supposed to be occupied with any other subject than himself, of course a tear is a tacit reproach. Besides, you miserable little whimperer, what have you to cry for? A-i-n-t y-o-u m-a-r-r-i-e-d? Isn’t that the summon bonum—the height of feminine ambition? You can’t get beyond that! It’s the jumping-off place! You’ve arriv!—got to the end of your journey! Stage puts up there! You’ve nothing to do but retire on your laurels, and spend the rest of your life endeavoring to be thankful that you are Mrs. John Smith! Smile! you simpleton!”

Monday, September 19, 2011

I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, but don't think I'm always going to eat it . . .

Just what is the big deal about bacon? Everywhere you go bacon is added to perfectly good food stuffs. Don’t get me wrong. I like bacon just fine. I like it with eggs and on a BLT. Once in a while, it is nice to have on a hamburger or crumbled over a fancy salad. But, I don’t want it on my ice cream. I really don’t want it anywhere near my chocolate. And, call my crazy, but I hate hate hate it wrapped around a lovely steak. In fact, my husband and I make the butcher counter people give us unbaconed filets and always instruct restaurant kitchens to unpeel the pork before grilling up our choices (we can always tell when they forget and take the bacon off at the last minute because the steak still tastes bacony anyway). Of course, said workers look at us askance. They roll their eyes and drop their jaws. But, it’s free, they say. You get bacon, too! We don’t want it, we reply. Give it to the next customer, enjoy it yourself, throw it away – anything but load another meal with the nation’s favorite flavor. Even though I do like bacon, I don’t seem to like it as much as the next person does. What about you? Are you eating more bacon lately? Do you have a new and improved way to enjoy its smoky crunch? Will you ever invite me over for dinner now that you know about my bacon issues?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I've been tagged!

Global Blog Tag: 10 Random Facts about Debra Brenegan

Have you ever played a GLOBAL game of tag?
Well, I'm It.
I've been tagged by children's author Anne E. Johnson.

Rules (if you're tagged): You must be tagged by someone; list 10 random facts about yourself; tag four more people. 

I have tagged: 
Kelly O'Connor McNees

Ready or not, here I go!

1.      I am the only sister of four brothers.

2.      I am pretty good at swing dancing.

3.      My other creative passion is baking.

4.      I worked in business for 5 years as a sales representative.

5.      My calico cat is 20 years old!

6.      I have a terrible sense of direction; do not follow me if we are lost in the woods.

7.      I adore gardenias.

8.      Chocolate cannot be too dark for me.

9.      I know how to write backwards (in cursive!).

10. Given a choice, I almost always pick blue.

Do you have a random fact you want to share about yourself? 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Up Up with Teachers

Me and Jan Williams, my high school homeroom teacher
In this day and age, when it’s fashionable to bash teachers as lazy, pampered over-paid drains on humanity, I’d like to offer a different perspective. Not because I’m a teacher myself. Not because I happen to be friends with or related to dozens of teachers (who also happen to be fine human beings). But, because I have been taught, mentored, guided and inspired . . . by teachers. And I’m sure you have, too.  

Let me tell you a story about one of those teachers – my high school homeroom teacher, Jan Williams. I entered high school with the usual fears and doubts of the young. My first contact was, of course, with Jan, who very soon put her young charges at ease. Her voice was soothing. She gave us information. And she seemed to care. After checking in every morning and afternoon with her for a year or so, I grew accustomed to her anchoring presence. I even decided to take a class from her. Listening to her talk about British Literature fanned the little embers of love for all things literature that were sparking in me. When I heard she was teaching a Psychology course (which at the time, was new stuff for high schoolers), I jumped at the chance to enroll. In the course, we read progressive books like The Feminist Mystique; I’m Okay, You’re Okay; and Transcendental Meditation. This grounded teacher conducted weekly group therapy sessions with her students which set me on the path to self-awareness and improvement.  

Not only did Jan teach well, she inspired and motivated me personally. I remember being at a conference with her and my mother. Jan asked me about my post-high school plans and I vaguely mentioned something about putting my newly-acquired typing skills to use as a secretary. Jan, gently, kindly, suggested that I think more broadly. She said something to the effect that someone with my abilities should go to college. It’s the first time I’d ever thought about college, but the idea, thankfully, took hold.  

Last semester, while teaching a chapter of The Feminine Mystique to my college students, I started telling them about when I had first read the book. I told them about my wonderful high school teacher and how she had such an impact on my life. Somewhere in that soliloquy, I realized I had never told Jan Williams those things, that I’d gone on and graduated from high school and hadn’t looked back. I ended up finding her, newly-retired from the same school district. I pumped up my courage and wrote an email to her, hoping she’d remember me, but happy just to let her know the impact she had had on my life as a teenager and for years to come.  

Happily, Jan read my email. And she was the same supportive, intelligent star. She answered me back and we began to correspond. She even came to my Shame the Devil book release event. She was happy to know that she’d made a difference, as any teacher is. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t told her earlier. It was so easy to do. And so right. 

So, now, as school starts, and with so many people looking for ways to judge and harass teachers, think about the teachers in your life who have helped you become who you are. And if you can, take the time to let them know just that.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Elf Ears

I stumbled upon what some websites have called the latest plastic surgery craze – elf ears.  A craze?  Really?  As yet, nobody seems sure how many have lined up to be elfed, but, apparently some teens, hoping to emulate their Lord-of-the-Rings and Avatar idols are choosing to undergo this new procedure that permanently elongates the upper ears into pointy, elfin, tips.  Some have heralded the procedure as this generation’s shock stock – akin to previous generations' body-spanning tattoos and multiple piercings.  Will stretched ear holes soon be passé compared to elf ears?  What do you think of this “craze”– nutty or harmless?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Notes

Turn-of-the-century textile workers

Labor Day is a holiday that was unofficially initiated by the union movement in the 1880s, but which included all workers. Congress declared it a national holiday in 1894 and during those first holidays, union members would march through city streets as a visual warning against those "pandering to the greed of monopoly, and reducing the condition of the masses," as one pamphlet of the era stated.  Labor unions were and are responsible for fighting for workers’ rights to fair wages, safe work environments, reasonable hours and humane care in sickness and upon retirement.  Support labor unions – the greed of monopoly must still be checked.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What I did on my summer vacation

Blackberry pie
I have been crazy, lately, about making pies.  I’ve even tried my hand at tarts.  There is something soothing and satisfying about rolling out crust, chopping fruit, forming decorative edges.  I get to express my creativity in a way other than writing and give my brain a rest.  Instead of thinking about words, plots, characters or settings, my pie-baking concentration shifts my thoughts to the present moment and lets me lose myself in a physical task that can be completed much faster than, say, a novel.  Not to mention that far fewer people reject my pies than reject my writing.  This summer, I attempted a pie a week – mostly berry.  I tried my hand at rhubarb, blackberry, blueberry, and, of course, tart Door County cherry.  What still eludes me?  A super great wonderful apple pie recipe.  I’m talking traditional, here, but still decadent.  Do you have one such recipe?  Pretty please with sugar on top?