Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sister Conversation, Shared References, Shared History

I'm rereading On the Banks of Plum Creek, fourth in the Little House on the Prairie series. It came up on the child lit listserv as a good example of... something, so I put it on hold at the library, and by the time I picked it up, I'd forgotten what was supposed to be so interesting about it. This is what usually happens; I put books on hold at the library because they're mentioned on child lit as an example of something interesting--a specific type of voice, POV, setting, relationship between characters--but by the time I get them I forget what it was I'd wanted to examine. The good part is I generally just appreciate them anyway.

So I've been rereading On the Banks of Plum Creek as I'm in Seattle with my sister for Christmas, and one or both of us has remembered every major incident: the dugout ceiling caving in when the ox runs across it, the leeches in Plum Creek, Nellie Oleson being insanely unbearable from the moment of her first appearance. I think it's interesting that neither of us remembered how beautiful the prose was. My parents read the whole series out loud to each of us--so I got to hear them twice--and now I can see how that must have been such a pleasure for them in so many ways. I know some of the books in the series have some problematic Indians, but not this one (at least 200 pages in). (That may be why it got mentioned on child lit, in fact.)

Last night, reading in bed, my sister and I had an awesome moment. As I've been reading, we've been talking about both the books and the TV show, and last night Nellie Oleson showed up for the first time, when Mary and Laura go to school. So I was like, "Em! Nellie Oleson! And she's already awful!" I read her the following:

Nellie Oleson was very pretty. Her yellow hair hung in long curls, with two big blue ribbon bows on top. Her dress was thin white lawn, with little blue flowers scattered over it, and she wore shoes. [Laura and Mary walk the two and a half miles from their farm, barefoot.]

She looked at Laura and she looked at Mary, and she wrinkled up her nose.

"Hm!" she said. "Country girls!"

We harumphed about that, but talked about how Laura always got Nellie back, in that way that you do when the character you're discussing is part of your family and really part of you, too.

On a related subject, I said, "So Laura was a dyke--I mean--"

My sister says, "No--not Laura, her sister, but in real life." She starts laughing.

"Yeah, Darlene!" I say. I start laughing.

Em says again, "Except in real life."

It cracked us both up so hard for so long. I love that sister.

We spent a while laughing, then we outlined the unsaid: on the TV show Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls is played by the actress Melissa Gilbert. Later, Melissa Gilbert's sister Sara Gilbert played Darlene on Roseanne, another show my family watched religiously. (Well, me and my sister and father. My mother hated it.) Sara Gilbert is an out lesbian.

Then my sister and I discussed Michael Landon and John Goodman for a while, before falling asleep.

Postscript: I also just learned that Sara and Melissa Gilbert's brother Jonathan was also on Little House! He played Nellie Oleson's nasty brother Willie! Gotta love Wikipedia.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A perfect thing

The brain tumor came up last night in a good group of people, people I'd known anywhere from fifteen years to about an hour. Kellie started talking about this video, and how it had made her cry, and I should watch it. I was dubious--I don't really need to do any extra crying about brain tumors--but she tried to explain how it made her cry, then she just forwarded the link. Shark Bite Luv Fog, by Alex Mitchell. I was curious. I watched it. And yeah, I cried, but in that "You're awesome, man, you nailed it" kind of way.

I think this is the ziniest video I've ever seen. It's also beautifully composed, and I love the way Alex illustrates his story. He lays it out so well, image and word and the way it's told: scariness and changes and people and all the distances and the way something like this leaves your old self underneath but makes you into someone else at the same time.

[It makes me think about YouTube in a new way--as a DIY gallery for art. I guess lots of people have already figured that out, but it took this video for me to clinch it. This is the first I've watched that feels like deliberate and complex art, rather than cheap humor or accidental art. Those both have their place, especially on the internet, but--yeah. Impressed and happy.]

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More than one home

From One Hundred Years of Solitude:

["...the wise Catalan had auctioned off his bookstore and returned to the Mediterranean village where he had been born, overcome by a learning for a lasting springtime." He leaves Macondo, goes home, and from there, writes letters to his friends left behind.]

One winter night while the soup was boiling in the fireplace, he missed the heat of the back of his store, the buzzing of the sun on the dusty almond trees, the whistle of the train during the lethargy of siesta time, just as in Macondo he had missed the winter soup in the fireplace, the cries of the coffee vendor, and the fleeting larks of springtime. Upset by two nostalgias facing each other like two mirrors, he lost his marvelous sense of unreality and he ended up recommending to all of them that they leave Macondo, that they forget everything he had taught them about the world and the human heart, that they shit on Horace, and that wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mount Hood is Your Hood

A guy at red e today was wearing an awesome hoodie that said "Mount Hood is Your Hood," and I coveted it. I asked him where he got it, and he showed me how it was part of a fundraiser by Bark, a non-profit whose mission, according to their website, "is to transform Mt. Hood National Forest into a place where natural processes prevail, where wildlife thrives and where local communities have a social, cultural, and economic investment in its restoration and preservation." His sweatshirt came from an art auction whose contributors suggest that this is one well-connected nonprofit. As I was browsing their website, I saw that they must also have some really creative development people. How brilliant an idea is this?

[Photo source:]

Prove that you have human feelings/ Ere you proudly question ours!

I have a book from 1825 in my collection of old textbooks: The Historical Reader, Designed for the Use of Schools and Families. On a New Plan. Written by Rev. J.L. Blake, A.M., Minister of St. Matthew's Church, and Principal of a Literary Seminary, Boston. Because I've moved around so much, and especially since I started teaching, I've gotten much better at culling my books, but I mostly seem to cull useful ones that have served their purpose, and I keep the etiquette guides, the shorthand manuals, the children's biography of Richard Nixon published in 1970, after he was elected and before Watergate. I have too many old textbooks, among them The American Nation Yesterday and Today, For Seventh and Eighth Graders as outlined by the New York State Syllabus (1930); Here is New York City (1962); Foods for Home and School (1949); Citizenship Readers Good Citizens Club (1930); A Book of Americans (1933); The Girl Next Door (1948); Human Body and Health: Advanced (1908); Healthy Living, Book One (1918), and Historical Reader (1825).

I don't have many English textbooks, since the Dick & Jane type books really only interest me for their illustrations. I love health textbooks and history textbooks, always fascinated by any erroneous information presented as fact, because it was, then, and curious about what is emphasized and what is not mentioned. Also interested in what is the same, and what is different. I also like the rare literature text that isn't Dick & Jane or McGuffey* because the literature recommended for students fascinates me.

The other day, browsing through my books, curious about what I have that I don't know of, I flipped The Historical Reader open to "The Negro's Complaint." There was no author included by the publisher of the book, but someone had written in Wm. Cowper, using a fountain pen and black ink that had probably faded to gray over a hundred years ago. Googling the poem, I found this , and followed the link to John Newton, whose "horror stories of the Middle Passage play a part in Cowper's poem." There I learned that John Newton wrote "Amazing Grace," but he once was lost, and before he was found, he was a slave trader! This is an excerpt from his account of those voyages.

Later that day, my iPod shuffled up Sam Cooke and the Soul Singers' version of "Amazing Grace." I heard it in a different way from how I'd ever heard it before.

Postscript: Looking through Expressive Reading (1907), I found a very old fern between pages 22 and 23. The "Gettysburg Address" is a "gem of high literary value" recommended for eighth graders.

*Though I did just read the Wikipedia entry on McGuffey and I'm now very curious to look at an 1830's McGuffey Reader and compare it to the 1879 version. Other interesting stuff in there too, if you're curious--worth checking out.