Friday, January 27, 2012

... No one can find the rewind button now - sing it if you understand ...

DISCLAIMER – This is a banned book post.  A report of sorts. On a book that is either frequently challenged or is/has been banned. Some content may not suit you. So, consider if you want to continue reading, or if you’d rather wait for a ‘normal’ post.

Very few things in my life have perfect timing. A precious, precious few. My art class study-abroad came at a perfect time, as did my travel to the UK. My first summer working at camp. Meeting my longtime tenant and friend, K. My independence rearing its head in the summer of ‘09. The events that all culminated on my birthday week in ’11 (what a week). Meeting my new Greenville friends.

My latest banned book had freakishly perfect timing because it dovetailed with timing of events in my life in a strange, mysterious way that I can’t wrap my brain around. It’s even weirder when you consider the book is Beloved by Toni Morrison. To begin – the book. At the end – the way it fit into my life, at a very odd juncture.

Beloved has been challenged in schools in Florida, Texas, and Maine (at least, these stats are the results of only light research). The reasons varied – violent images, language, sexual material (incest, rape, pedophilia, graphic sex, sexual abuse, bestiality) physical/emotional abuse, infanticide, and profanity. And yes, this is a dark book. A heavy book. A book that repeats itself time and again in the final chapter as a story you aren’t meant to share. Why does it keep popping up? Why does it keep offending people? If it isn’t a worthwhile book, why doesn’t it just go out of print? The reason is that Beloved is a book that confronts. It makes people confront their past, confront their sins, and realize their present. And people don’t handle these ideas well at all. I don’t handle these ideas well at all.

Sethe is a former slave (she escaped to Cincinnati) who lives in a house haunted by a baby – her child. She has given birth to several children, but only one still lives with her – the others have fled or died. She and her daughter, Denver, do not mix with the community. In the beginning you assume it has to do with the house – and you are partially right. But as the story moves on and you learn the daily struggles of Sethe and Denver’s lives, you begin to realize that it is much more then the house that keeps them isolated. In the opening of the novel, a slave named Paul D. visits Sethe and becomes her lover. They worked on the same plantation years ago before Sethe escaped. While Paul D. provides her with joy and companionship, he begins to bring back memories that haunt Sethe. Paul D. (briefly) exorcises their resident ghost. Denver is upset, because she believes the ghost to be her baby sister. The ghost is also Denver’s only companion. She partly forgives Paul D. when he takes both ladies to a carnival. Sadly, this joy is short lived. Upon returning, a strange being appears at Sethe’s house. It is a well-dressed young woman who calls herself Beloved. She looks strangely like Sethe and behaves oddly – exercising a surprising amount of control over Paul D. (to the point of impelling him to have sex with her and moving him bodily around the house) and Sethe (using emotional manipulation and fear to cripple her). Eventually you discover Beloved is a sort of revenant/ghost/demon of Sethe’s dead child – and is back to be with Sethe. Sethe begins telling the women about (and while telling, begins to relive) her horrific past. Paul D. finds out why the community shuns Sethe and why her baby is dead. He cannot stay with Sethe after he discovers her secret, and leaves. For a time, Denver is alone with the demon and her mother – providing for them and trying to protect her mother from the overbearing, overwhelming presence of Beloved. Beloved physically harms Denver and Sethe when she does not get her way, causes them to starve, and keeps Sethe from working. Finally, Paul D. and the community overcome their distaste for Sethe’s past actions and exorcise her house. While free of Beloved’s presence, Sethe continues to suffer and is burdened with guilt. She has to come to grips with her past and see it for what it is before she can move into the present and dream of the future along with Paul D. and Denver.

Still from the movie with Oprah Winfrey and Thandie Newton - 

Wow – this book is violent. There are descriptions of bloody deaths, rape, whippings, difficult childbirths, and slow decent into madness. The descriptions of what some slaves could have gone through (just bodily) to escape to freedom in the north made my stomach turn. The emotional strain and heartache Sethe and Paul D. endured and boxed away was enough for several lifetimes. However, the fact that they boxed all of these emotions up and did not confront them lead to the very physical oppression of alcoholism (for Paul D.) and the crippling presence of Beloved (for Sethe).

The things that made this book worth the struggle were the characters of Baby Suggs and the realizations the community, Paul D., Denver and Sethe have in the final chapters. Baby Suggs is Sethe’s mother-in-law and the spiritual leader of the community. She calls the people in the community to laugh, cry, love, dance, embrace life and heal. When Sethe does the unthinkable and begins to justify her actions to others, Baby Suggs is overwhelmed and succumbs to illness. The community draws on her memory and the memory of her strength to save Sethe – realizing the hatred and fear they feel for her should be tempered with love. Sethe and Paul D.’s story closes on his realization that they both have had enough yesterdays and they need more tomorrows. They embrace themselves and each other, deal with the past, and leave Beloved behind.

I had to confront my past this week. Actions I took. Actions I did not take. The ways the actions and inaction hurt others. My mindset. My opinions. My desires against what my desires should be. Truth against lies. Past versus present versus future. I looked into the eyes of someone who was standing where I stood almost a year ago and realized I was being haunted.  It wasn’t until that instant I was able to dispel the complete feeling of worthlessness and futility I’ve been carrying, In that instant I exorcised the demon – pregnant with hate and rancor – from my mind. I realized I was my own ‘best thing’.

Today, I choose to love myself. – all of me. I choose to trust, yet verify. I choose to remember without reliving. I choose to forgive myself and others. Today, I choose tomorrow.

Extra Credit - some of my workweek soundtrack.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"... ain't no rest for the wicked, money don't grow on trees ..."

DISCLAIMER – This is a banned book post.  A report of sorts. On a book that is either frequently challenged or is/has been banned. Some content may not suit you. So, consider if you want to continue reading, or if you’d rather wait for a ‘normal’ post.

The first banned book I decided to read was The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice). I picked this book mostly on a lark, with no real research into how it earned the ‘banned’ status (oops). I remembered reading two of Anne Rice’s Vampire series at USC and recalled that her writing style didn’t make want to puke.

I started reading, made some faces, got embarrassed and then reminded myself I must finish the book. I did. The writing was not bad. The subject was … well.

Let’s start at he beginning, shall we?

First, background on the fairytale itself. Sleeping Beauty’s PG and Disneyfied form is close to the version that was circulated by the Brothers Grimm. Some changes to the tale occurred, naturally, but nothing truly essential to the plot. What it is important to remember is that the Brothers Grimm had a tendency to rip off other fairytale writers - in this case Charles Perrault. Perrault is considered the ‘father’ of fairytales - his book The Tales of Mother Goose is one of the first to contain the genre. So his will be the one I reference in great detail below.

In Perrault’s version of the tale seven fairies were invited to bless a baby princess, who had been anxiously awaited for years. The silly king and queen ‘forgot’ to invite the evil fairy (party foul). The fairy comes anyway, and like the negative-Nellie-gatecrasher she is, ‘gives’ the princess a curse.  When she becomes an adult, she will pierce her hand on a spindle and die. Thankfully, one good fairy hadn’t given her gift yet, and she is able to partially reverse the curse (she’s only kind of useless). She’ll be in a coma for 100 years instead, not age, and still marry a handsome prince. Go figure. The fairy also thoughtfully included that the whole castle would share the coma state, which sounds really cool to me. So the overprotective dad bans spinning (upending the rural economy). And for about sixteen years, all is quiet. Then, the woman-switch flips and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Some independent, don’t-cave-to-the-man old woman is spinning in the castle one day, and the princess wants to give it a go. The woman (either in a genius move or because she is an idiot) lets the girl try. The curse is fulfilled, a massive spiny forest instantaneously grows up around the castle, and certain death awaits the knight who tries to part the thorns. As luck would have it (or some decent math skills) a hundred years later, a prince who had heard the story of the came to the castle and the thorns melted before him. He found the princess, FELL OVER due to her sheer beauty, and she woke up. As did the rest of the castle. Everyone’s lives continued where they left off in the happily ever after sort of fashion.

Wait … what? No kiss? I FEEL CHEATED! What happened? Here’s the deal – Perrault cleaned up a rather dirty folktale. In the folktale, Sleeping Beauty was raped in her coma and didn’t awake until after her baby is born and sucks the piece of flax that put her to sleep out of her finger. Then her new mother-in-law got jealous and tried to eat her and her baby. Yikes. It’s almost more dysfunctional than Twilight. Especially when you consider that the origin of the tale was most likely the Brynhild story in Norse mythology (lots of death and revenge).

Now to discuss the author, Anne Rice.  Anne Rice has sold nearly 100 million books. She ‘s written in many different genres, most notably Christian fiction and gothic fiction. Anne was a New Orleans gal for most of her life.  She left the Catholic Church, married her high school sweetheart, and took up writing. She was great, and kept writing. The only points in her life that are super interesting to me about Anne’s life thus far are her public decisions to rejoin and subsequently re-abandoned the Church.  More information on Anne and her religious experiences are provided below, because I am neither the most informed or best-qualified writer for the scope – especially when you can hear her own account! Links at the end, lovelies.

Now back to the book, if you’re still along for the ride.

The book opens with rape, like the dirty version of Sleeping Beauty always has. Ok. Weird. Especially seeing as the book was in the regular fiction section and was apparently SUPPOSED to be in the erotic section. Rape is not erotic in my opinion.  Nor is it something to be glorified. But our hapless heroine seems to take it in stride, and falls for her ‘prince charming’, hard.  He whisks her away for a stint of sexual slavery in an adjoining kingdom, in a tradition that has been going strong for at least the past two centuries. This sounds TOTALLY logical and feasible. So does the fact that this ‘sexual slavery’ seems to rotate around endless spankings and a very intense version of BDSM. Dom/mes are always dishing out pain, molding every prince and princess within reach into a permanent, enslaved sub.  Beauty begins to rebel in small ways, but is rightfully horrified at the gruesome punishments the disobedient are forced to endure at the hands of the Dom/mes.  She eventually loses her crush on ‘prince charming’ and has an ill-concealed attachment and affair to a fellow slave, which ends up causing them both being sent off to a village for a period of even harsher, more severe punishments.

I read this book in less than 4 hours. I shook my head, I shuddered a little.  This was meant to be erotic? I was not in the least turned on. What I discovered was that I was curious. I logged on and began to Google. Do people really think this is sexy? Do people do this? Is this really what BDSM is/is about?

First off, this book is (and others in the series are) immensely popular. People ARE into BSDM. Safe search came off, research happened.

Whoo boy.

Rice’s book basically focused on the S/M (sadist/masochist) and M/s (Master/slave) relationships that can occur in BDSM. The extreme versions of both kinds of relationships are shown in the book – which is why I was likely so freaked out.

So in review – I read the book, didn’t throw up, learned a lot about human sexuality, and learned that I don’t find pony play or rape erotic.

Nothing life changing. Not sure why this book has been banned when Harlequin has shelves and shelves in the library.

Just sayin’.

More information on her religious experiences:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

... your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine ...

I have been very remiss in blogging, running, and almost every aspect of being a normal responsible adult lately. I have been to work, naturally. I’ve seen friends. I’ve even embarked on a timeshare adventure with a husky puppy (I get to walk her and coax her into being a sweet obedient puppy, but no costs are incurred other then gas to go pet her). Other then discovering The Civil Wars (late on that one) and being very angry with Santorum for … breathing …

NO, SERIOUSLY. I LOATHE THAT MAN. I will be going to vote in the primary SIMPLY to vote for SOMEONE ELSE, so I can contribute to his demise.

He says nasty things about pretty much everyone, racist comments, his extremely holier-than-thou, and don’t even get me STARTED on the ‘the only moral abortion is my WIFE’S abortion and NO ONE ELSE can have one EVER’.

Let more informed and (possibly?) less biased minds inform you of the specifics -

Thank goodness for his ‘little Google problem’.

In less … ummm … political and emotionally charged news …

Rain makes me want to lounge in bed all day next to someone, drinking tea, reading books, and giggling. This week’s weather has put me off kilter, as I haven’t had the luxury of being able to do any of those things.

I also got to pick someone up at the airport (Nick now owes me something pretty, as his flight was DELAYED and I sat there forever).  I love airports. They are magical, transformative places. Places you get to pass through and embark on an adventure – turn into a new person with a specific goal. No one knows who you are, and a few know where you’re headed. But NOBODY knows why other then the person who asks the obligatory ‘business or pleasure’ question.  You could be a spy, or a housewife, or someone having a torrid affair. A CEO or a down on your luck person who just got fired – running home to momma. The sense of freedom from the massive amount of stories, personal drama, anonymity, and separation from the known is intoxicating.  I was bodily sitting in a car, but mentally in Italy – on a piazza in Venice drinking a blood orange and champagne and eating the most delicious pizza ever while people-watching Italians.  I was in heaven there, with my moleskine, food, and pencils – writing, sketching, and reading in complete bliss. No one cared that my sketches looked like shit. No one cared that I got sunburned from sunbathing in my underwear in a vineyard.  No one cared that I was alternately blunt, crabby, wide-eyed, in love, and homesick. I was entirely within my own skin and I have never felt more powerful or more vulnerable. It was a perfect moment in time.

More extreme than, but similar to the first sip of my tea today, the kid who waved to me in the hall, the bit of sun peeking through the clouds, finding out about the child whose test scores increased by 33 points ... seconds of bliss.