Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Get Up Stand Up: Book Suggestions

Last week, I visited a class to speak about some of my writing, the process, and The Danger of a Single Story. I was asked many wonderful questions about my work and also about books I've read that kept in line with the idea of standing up for oneself. The normal thing that always happens when I'm asked this question is my mind goes blank. All the titles of wonderful books I've read disappear as quickly as my dog, Sami, eats her meals.

So, below I've put together a list of books I think are important. I will probably stray from the topic, (I apologize in advance, Rich)  but I will give it my best.

I can't remember how old I was when I read this book, but I was definitely in my 20's, (I think) and I was blown away, by not just the writing, but the idea. For a length of time in my life, I was obsessed with Utopian society books. Huxley seemed to capture something not as dark as Orwell's  1984 or Rand's Anthem, but it still carries a heavy warning sign. I remember thinking, "What it would be like to be satisfied?" then I shook my head and snapped out it. I like that it made me question. 

I've read this book three different times and each time I read I learned something new. I know it is a political book. Some readers snub their noses at Ayn Rand. In literary circles, I don't dare mention her name because I will inevitably get a look, but this book was important for me. At the baser levels, the way I chose to read it, is the story of someone who wouldn't compromise their beliefs/morals for their happiness. Selfishness has a horrible connotation, but isn't a certain level of selfishness okay? 

So, there is a pattern. As I go through my list of books, I'm snagging the ones that I remember (yes, there are some I don't. at all) and there is an apparent theme. This is a quick read though. I think something that scares me is the people's inactivity.  

Okay, I'm not sure this fits the category, but I found this book incredibly interesting. It definitely changes the idea of a single story that many have of Native Americans. It's a wonderful balance of a range of emotions a family/community goes through. Erdrich is a masterful story teller. 

I recently read this, but I want to include, because it brings up a lot of interesting questions about identity and the duality of culture. There are some beautiful essays in it. Although there were a couple that lagged in comparison, I enjoyed it very much. 

As I write this, I keep arguing with myself about what books to include. There are others, many others that pop into my head that I loved, but not sure why or if I'm just starting a conversation with myself about books. So here are some authors who have short stories I like to teach: 

Short Stories 
August 2026 - Ray Bradbury
Popular Mechanics -Raymond Carver
Girl - Jamaica Kincaid
Greasy Lake - T.C. Boyle  
Hills Like White Elephants - Ernest Hemingway 
Sonny's Blues - James Baldwin 
The Lottery - Shirley Jackson 
The White Girl - Luis Alberto Urrea
The Falling Girl - Dino Buzzati 

Okay, I think that's it. Now I have dandelion titles and pieces of stories floating around in my brain, and they are getting all mixed up. I hope that anyone who reads this finds at least one thing on this list they didn't know about and like. If there are two? Then I made a good list. 

Comments on readings are welcome below! 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Digging Through the Dust

For the past month, my sister and I have been cleaning out a dusty storage unit my mother had filled with nothing and everything. Painstakingly, we have gotten up early, gone to the unit, and dug through boxes of my mother's life. We've found old photos, jewelry, socks, clothes, out-dated workout equipment, broken glass, and layers upon layers of El Paso desert dust that settled upon things we'd forgotten about.

We'd get there clad in workout gear with white rubber gloves and sunscreen ready. I've suffered two sunburns on my back and shoulders, 20 sneezes, one stubbed toe, many sore muscles, and countless memories as we reminisced with the things we found. I took pictures of my favorite navy blue vans with Nirvana lyrics scribbled on the side from high school. I took home a cast iron pan, shish kabob skewers, and a marble cutting board. We donated countless things and threw away many others. Last Saturday, we finally finished.

Several family members showed up and worked at loading a rented U-Haul. In the back, hidden by another bed frame was my old bed. A wooden twin bed headboard and footboard sat covered in a think layer of dust.

"Do you want your bed?" my mom asked.

I looked at her not knowing what to say. I turned back toward the bed and remembered sleeping in it every night up until I went away to college.

My sister, Angie, looked at me, "Do you wanna sell it?"

"I don't know. Do I?" I asked.

My husband and uncle moved around us asking what to load and what to leave for me to sell. I looked at the wooden spirals and choked a bit. The dust seemed to settle in my throat. I felt my eyes begin to strain around the edges.

"If you do sell it, make sure you get a good amount. It's solid wood," Angie said shaking her head for emphasis.

I stayed quiet. The moment the three of us had amongst all the movement broke. They walked in opposite directions and gave instructions on different items. The bed frame stayed resting against the metal wall.

A moment later, I stood outside with my mom. We both welcomed the breeze after being inside the stuffy, still air of the storage unit.

"I think you should take your bed. Even if you decide to sell it later. You know, your dad wasn't always bad," she said turning away from me to face the breeze.

I stayed quiet for a moment.

"I'd forgotten he made the bed for me," I swallowed the words 'until I saw it'.

"Take it," was all she said.

With the unit almost empty I walked inside and grabbed the headboard from the middle. The wood was solid and my gloved hand immediately rubbed off years of dust. I held it in my hand and slowly raised it to rest on my shoulder. I thought it would be heavier. I walked to the gray Toyota pick-up truck filled with items I was taking to sell.

"Here!" I called up to my husband who stood in the back of the truck.

"We're taking this?" he asked. Beads of sweat bubbled to the surface on the skin of his forehead.

"Yeah. It's my bed."

He looked at me, then reached for it. I went back for the footboard. He placed both in the back of the back.

Later, as I unloaded the truck into the garage with Angie, I rubbed the dust off the brown spirals while she walked a dusty bike inside. I imagined the hands that made the bed, broad-palmed, brown with short fingers, the skin still taunt as they stained the spirals a rich dark brown decades ago. Light nicks scarred the wood in places from use and age. I fingered  them with my dingy gloved hand and tried to remember how some of them got there and couldn't. That's the thing about scars though, even if I couldn't remember how they got there, the white gashes still stood out against the dark wood.

"Is that the last piece?" Angie asked.

I nodded and handed the footboard down to her.