Thursday, December 30, 2010

Books I Read in 2010

I'm going to go for it. Attempt to actually get in two posts in the next 36ish hours--less, really--that will list the books I read/heard this year. Dig me.

This list is way easier (read: shorter) than the audiobook list, because my in-bed or at-home reading time is almost nonexistent these days. But about three or four months ago I discovered the ebook section in my library, and began reading library books on my laptop. And now I've purchased a Nook (OK, my mom purchased it for me as a Chanukah/early birthday present), so I can read a lot more on the go. (The iPhone Stanza app just wasn't cutting it for me; the pages were too small, it would turn off while I was in the middle of reading if I got distracted for even a half a minute...) So I'm hoping next year's list will be more impressive. On the other hand, the book that's on my Nook right this minute is A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. Which is 699 pages long. So, yeah. Maybe not so much on the ripping through three dozen books next year.

As for this year...

1. The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton: I know I was supposed to find this deeply affecting, troubling, moving. I have no idea why I didn’t. But I felt removed from the story, from the very beginning. No connection. 
2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A reread of one of my all-time favorite books. I was worried about whether I would/could enjoy it as much this time around, because the first time I read it through was in an attic dorm room in Scotland, when I was visiting my then-boyfriend at university; I fell ill while there, and the long hours while he was in class plus the slight fever...I don't know. I just thought it was probably a unique situation in which to read the book. I will admit that I found it more difficult--at times near-impossible--to follow this time around. But, nonetheless, I found it no less enchanting and real. Phew.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Laurel Lee: Em read this for school, and I had to read it again myself, despite it being my second re-read in a row. Just perfect. 
4. Rashi's Daughters, Book III: Rachel by Maggie Anton: Maggie was a member of my synagogue before she moved, and our book club made a point of reading each of these three books when they came out. Maggie actually came and spoke to us after we finished this one. I enjoyed these books a great deal, and I really enjoyed chatting with Maggie.
5. Rules by Cynthia Lord: This and the next book were recommended by members of my special-needs posse (i.e., pretty much everyone reading this); both are, I believe, young adult books. I found this one a little simplistic to my taste, but the parts of the story about the young girl's experience as the older sibling of a special needs kid really hit home. Or hit Em's home. Or something like that. You know what I mean.
6. Anything But Typical by Nora Baskin: Interesting and insightful. And hopeful.
7. About Alice by Calvin Trillin: So sweet. I was more than a little jealous. To affect someone like that...To be loved like that. Not that I'm not loved, but...Oh, again. You know what I mean.
8. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris: Unbelievable. Incredible. There were tiny flaws—I'd have liked the daughter's character to have some more depth to it, and the murder-case subplot fizzles oddly—but Tim and Jane are so real, so believable, so heartbreaking, that in them Ferris more than makes up for any deficits. Plus, dude. To come up with that kind of believable and yet surreal medical condition. My hat's off.
9. Noah's Compass by Ann Tyler: Sweet, but I never bought the basic premise. And I sort of resented the contempt everyone had for Liam, the way he was treated, and then--at the same time--the way he treated Eunice. Not a favorite, and done no favors by me when I bookended it with the two Ferris novels, both of which I loved and both of which felt fresh and new and real.
10. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris: So real. And all the more amazing for how so much of it was about caricaturing the classic office personalities. But he layered, and he layered, and suddenly, they were real. Buffoons, often, but real. And to accomplish this all in the first person plural. Oh, yeah. He's good. (Plus? Best line ever, from a Jewish man discussing his upcoming marriage to an Italian woman: "So yeah, the wedding's going to be like the Montagues and the Capulets. Except the Montagues won't have swords, they'll have Saturday-night specials, you know, and us, we'll just have the Torah and whatever shards we can collect from the breaking of the glass." Bwah!) 
11. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (on iPhone via Stanza): Brilliant. Of course. But, really, I want her to write it again, this time from May's point of view. (Yes, I know just how many levels on which that would be impossible.) Something about May really speaks to me...moreso than do either Newland or Ellen...though not the May Winona Ryder plays in the movie. (Which I thought was actually really, really good, too. But different from how I'd read the book. Movies can be weird that way, sometimes.)
12. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (on laptop via Adobe eReader): What a wonderful story, with a truly disappointing ending. Or was it? I actually spent a couple of hours after finishing this book looking up reviews and writeups that talked about what happened at the end of this book, so I guess calling it disappointing is a bit disingenuous. Frustrating might be a better word. To say much more would be to spoil it for anyone who has yet to give it a shot, so I'll stop here. But if you read it, and if you have something to say about the ending, gimme a shout out. I'd love to discuss it. (Funny how reminiscent this is of my reaction to the ending of Her Fearful Symmetry, which I'll be mentioning in my next post on the books I listened to this year. Clearly, this was the Year of the Frustrating Ending.) 
13. Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson: I love Joshilyn's books, even if they are pretty much the antithesis of the kind of book I usually love. This one was good; no gods in Alabama, but really good, and really satisfying.
14. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (on laptop via Adobe eReader): Everyone told me this was a page-turner, a can't-put-it-downer. Everyone was right. Which is not to say it was the best book I've ever read, or even the best of this year. But it was compelling, and it didn't quite turn out the way I expected, and when secrets were revealed, the revelations were satisfying. Thanks, Everyone.
15. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (on laptop via Adobe eReader): This was another truly satisfying, compelling read. And fun. Which isn't an obvious thing when you're talking about a family sitting shiva for a father. But it was fun. Somewhat predictable, but sometimes, that's what's the most fun...predicting, and being right.
16. Bite Me: A Love Story by Christopher Moore (on Nook): My first Nook book! Fun, fun, fun. It's impossible, I believe, for Christopher Moore to deliver a not-fun book. But it's not his best (to my mind, that was A Dirty Job), and if you didn't read the first two in this series, I wouldn't start here. I think he's done with the vampire thing; I think he's played it way, way out, and I hope he goes somewhere else, does something else for his next book. Still, I'm pretty sure he'll decide what to do next without really considering what I think. The bastard.
Next up: Audiobooks. Which is a list almost twice as long as this one. And includes all seven Harry Potters. Stay tuned.

Books I Listened to in 2009, Part II

No, no, you read that right. Part II. Of a list I started in December of 2009 with a post listing the books I'd read that year. And then another post in April about some of the books I'd listened to. Which I then began to follow up by finishing up that list. Which would have been pathetic enough, a two-part 2009 list in April of 2010. But I guess I really wanted to win the You Call Yourself a Blogger? award, because I didn't even manage to finish up the second part, despite being four months into the year.

Well, now I will. Except that I don't really remember what I thought about half the books; thank god I'd already pasted in the list. So you'll notice that several of these comments are sorta, well, sketchy. Or crappy. I prefer sketchy, though.

Anyone wanna take bets on when I'll get to doing the 2010 list? Yeah, me neither.

17. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant: The first time I read this, I actually read it; this time, I listened to it. Those weren't the only differences though; when I read it the first time, we had not yet found our synagogue, and I had not yet done what (admittedly and relatively little) learning I've done since. Which meant that the way I read it had changed in a number of different ways. Still, I thought it was such a remarkable book, both times, in all ways.

18. Look Me In The Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison: Yes, I've been audio-obsessing over this family this year; first Augusten, now John. I found this book fascinating. There's very little of N in here; it's not that kind of fascinating. What I find fascinating is the objectivity in this story. It's the ability of people like John to step back and look at themselves, talk about themselves, from the point of view of the world around them. John talks about the mistakes he made as a kid in trying to make friends, with full understanding of why those attempts failed. He talks about the issues he has, even today, because his reactions to various sensory or social inputs are so quirky. I find that ability to see your differences, recognize them as differences, name them as differences...all of it is just remarkable to me. I think that's what makes this such a remarkable story; it's so insightful. It allows me to understand him--and his worldview--from both my own perspective and from his as well.

19. Home by Marilynne Robinson: Oh, wow. This book broke my heart in many ways. Not just the story, but the language, and the insights. I loved Gilead, but this one. Oh, this one seriously blew me away. (It also excited me from a writer's point of view. I actually spent several lunch hours, while listening to Home, at a bookstore holding Gilead in my hands, so that I could track the events I was listening to and remember how they'd been described before. It made it such a rich, multilayered experience. I loved every second of it.)

20. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs: Like I said, Augusten and John might want to consider a restraining order against me--I spent a suspicious amount of my time this year listening to story after story after story about them and their families. I won't say this one wasn't worth my time. I'll just say I don't think it measured up to any of the others in terms of depth and insight.

21. One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus: Part fascinating, part ridiculous; I couldn't decide whether I wanted to hate it or love it. In the end, I ended up liking it more than I really thought I should.

22. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks: I loved the idea of this book, its overall conceit. The individual stories, though, were...a bit uneven. Some of it felt 'real' to me; some of it way, way too contrived. In other words, some of it was about the people, but some of it just felt like a book.

23. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski: God, I wish I'd written down my thoughts when I listened to this one. Because I do remember it blowing me away, and I do remember actually having to turn my iPod on and off at certain points, because I could see what was coming, and I couldn't stand it, couldn't listen to it, could only handle a few words at a time. I must have looked like a lunatic. But I couldn't NOT listen to it, either.

24. Never Change by Elizabeth Berg: You know how sometimes there are books that are eye-rollingly banal, and yet you enjoy them? That's this one.

25. Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio: So the Berg book, this one, and the next two were audiobooks on CD I took out of the library near my mom's house in the summer of 2009, when N and I were there picking up Em. Because they had a different selection from that of the libraries near my house, I grabbed everything I a) knew wasn't at my own library and b) had heard of and hadn't already read. That's how I wound up reading Icy Sparks. I wasn't especially impressed; I felt like I'd read it all before, and done better. Which is not to say I hated it; just that it didn't blow my socks off. Or even ruffle them all that much.

26. Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg: Yes, another. Not quite as enjoyable, though. Couldn't put my finger on why, except maybe they were just too close, just too alike, just too banal.

27. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters: I lover Waters' books; they're quirky and interesting, never boring. This one took some bizarre twists, becoming more fantastical than fantastic at times, but still entertained.

28. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: I wish I'd read this one in actual book form, rather than as an audiobook, because the way the stories wove in and out of one another almost literally begged me to flip back and forth as needed. Still. Still. Incredible stories. Hard to read, sometimes, but moving and intense and so well written.

29. The Believers by Zoe Heller: I can't believe I listened to the whole thing. These people were awful. Not a truly likeable one in the bunch (if I'm remembering correctly...sigh...).

30. A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore: Another I'm-not-sure-I-really-remember-my-gut-response book, but I know that I found it hard to listen to, and yet impossible not to listen to. Another one, though, where all the characters sort of grated a bit at times, some all the time. Is no one truly likeable any more?

31. Middlemarch by George Eliot: I suppose it would be a cop out to simply say this is a true classic. But it is. I'd be sorry that I waited so long to read it, but maybe I wouldn't have been ready for it much before now: It's big, in so many ways.

And that, my friends, is that. The last of the audiobooks of 2009. Except, I mean, for the following coda, which I'd written back in April:

I kept--or, rather, tried to keep--separate lists of the books I read and heard this year. Apparently, though, I made a couple of mistakes. Here are two books I should have included in my Books I Read in 2009 post. Even though I never did make it through the first one.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum: This was one of my synagogue's book club selections, I should note. And when I went to the meeting, the first thing I said was, "Please tell me I wasn't the only person here who simply could not finish this book." I wasn't. Understand: It is not a bad book. It seemed well written. It was certainly affecting. But it was an excruciatingly painful story. There were details and descriptions that made me feel physically ill. I would head up to bed at night, dreading opening the book again, dreading what was coming. The fact that it was a novel should have ameliorated that a bit, you'd think. But the fact that it was a novel made it possible for me to allow myself to put it aside. I wasn't dishonoring anyone's memory. I wasn't disrespecting what someone had gone through. I just simply, literally, couldn't take it anymore. And when it comes to Holocaust stories, I think it's safe to say that I'm in no danger of forgetting. I am the choir, and I've been good and preached to. No need to say any more.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: It had been a very long time since I'd reread this book. My god, it's good. Exceptional, even. Whether I think this or Angle of Repose is the must-read Stegner novel depends on which one I've reread most recently. But, really, does it matter? If you haven't read Stegner, you must. No, really. You must. [And, hey, spoiler: If and when I do ever get to my audiobooks reads of 2010? Angle of Repose will be on there. And I'll tell you then how good, how exceptional that book is, too.]

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hand Holding

On Christmas Eve Eve (aka December 23), we were on our way to the home of our friends, where we spend Christmas every year, helping them celebrate their holiday as they often help us celebrate ours. I would make latkes and applesauce, and chicken soup with matzo balls; my friend would make eggplant parmesan with homemade marinara sauce, and pasta with a homemade meat sauce. We would feast. We did feast.

But before that, it was me and N and our dog Snug in the car, battling traffic while Baroy and Em were at a soccer meeting for her All-Stars team, readying themselves to join us later. I was transitioning from one freeway to another when...BAM. I was, it would later turn out, the third car in a three-car collision. I should say right out: Nobody was hurt, and my car sustained the least damage of them all. It was a blip, more than anything. Likely to be an expensive blip, but just a blip nonethess.

And yet, I still can't talk about the accident without shaking; just typing this is making my legs tremble, though I actually am not freaked out about it any more in my conscious mind. It's odd, and I don't know where it's coming from. But this blog post isn't about me. It's about N, who at first seemed more than fine about the whole thing--there was a POLICEMAN involved, after all, one who was on his way to dinner when he saw the three cars pulled over to the side of the road and came to our aid. There is nothing more exciting than a policeman in N's world.

And yet, I noticed--as we discussed it over dinner with our friends, and then with another friend when she arrived the following morning--that N stayed uncharacteristically quiet. When I asked him about it, he just hid under a couch pillow. He doesn't like to talk about hard stuff, my boy. And so I handed him this laptop, and asked him to write about it. The following, in all its misspelled and oddly worded glory, is his story.

(The only info you need is that the bumper was, originally, still attached, hanging by almost a thread, so the policeman pulled it off for us; and that it had a "Student of the Month" sticker on it, and the "Stu" is no longer there, so a friend pointed out to us that now it ironically reads "dent of the Month." Which, yes, it is. At least, it's the dent of OUR month.)

Oh, and the other thing you should know? The second-to-last line just about killed me.
My accident story

I felt scared and sad when the accident happened. My mom's car got hit and I never been in a car accident. Happy because I saw a police car yesterday and he pulled off my mom's bumper and now the sticker saids dent of the month. I thouht that I was going to get hrut and go to the Hositipl and have to do sugry on me with out my mom holding my hand. That is my story.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

His Beautiful Mind?

[Walking to school.]

Mom, you forgot to put the Vaseline on my lips, and they were really hurting last night.

Did you tell me?


Well, then how was I supposed to know. Do I live inside your head?

[Laughs.] No, but that would be really cool if you did.

[We have a conversation about why that might or might not be cool, having me be able to control him from inside his head. Then...]

Does anyone have someone that lives inside their head?

Well, that's a difficult question to answer, because there are some people who kind of feel like there are people in their heads in one a way where they know those people aren't real. Like, writers can sometimes hear the characters speaking. I can do that sometimes when I'm writing. It helps me know what someone would or should say in a story. I may 'hear' someone talking to me, but I know that they're not real. They're not talking to me the way you're talking to me. And I can make them stop any time I want.

What about other people?

Well, there are other people who sometimes hear voices or think that there are people inside their heads who are telling them what to do, who they can't stop, and they can't do anything about. But most of the rest of the people in the world think that people like that might have something wrong in their brain, something that makes it difficult for them to stop those voices or realize they're not real. People think of that as a kind of mental illness.

But what is that called?

That's called schizophrenia.

And what do they do for that?

There are medications, and doctors will give those people different medications until the people say they can't hear the voices any more.

[No comment; he looks unhappy, agitated, waves his hand at his head.]

I don't want to talk about this anymore.

[Because by this time we'd gotten to the school and were surrounded by a large group of kids, I waited until we got to the top of the stairs to say anything more. Then I turned him around to face me, and got close to him.]

I'm wondering if the reason you look so upset about this is because of your imaginary friends.

[He nods slightly.]

Your imaginary friends are imaginary. You don't think that they're real. That's one of the reasons nobody's worried about your imaginary friends. Another reason nobody's worried about your imaginary friends is because, while sometimes they talk to you a lot, whenever you need to, you can make them stop. And they're not telling you to do bad things. And if they did, you'd still have a choice about whether you do them or not. So that's not what I was talking about. OK?

[Another slight nod.]

I'm door monitor today for my class, Mom. Bye!

[Did he buy what I was selling? I hope so. I can't swear, though.]

[And also? Really, Monday Morning? Really? THIS is what you hit me with, out of nowhere, from a kid with whom normal conversations go no deeper than how many police cars he saw that afternoon? You're mean, Monday Morning. Cruel. I don't like you very much today.]

Monday, November 8, 2010

Letter to the Soldiers

(Taken directly from an email I sent my friend S this morning. Sometimes these entries just write themselves, don't they?)

We had Mitzvah Day at the temple yesterday; one of the mitzvot--in this case, it means good deeds--we do is create care packages for soldiers overseas.

The kids write holiday cards to the soldiers to include in the packages; lots of "we love you" and "come home soon" and hearts and flowers ... 

... except for N's, which read, "Dear Soldier, Hope you win the war. Beet the bad guys with your guns. Love, N."

The woman in charge of that table and I laughed until we cried. Well, after we fixed the handwriting so it didn't look so much like it said "Beet the bad GAYS with your guns."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Swear, the Smart*ss Gene Came From Her Father

We were having a family meeting last night about Em's computer usage. She received a laptop for her Bat Mitzvah (thanks, Mom!) and while it's literally been the Best Present Ever, it's also brought up some issues that I hadn't really considered.

I've always been very anti-computer-in-the-kids'-rooms, and I still am. Except that there are actually lots of reasons for her to have to use her computer in her room: The fact that our house just isn't large or nook-y enough for her to have a quiet place to do her homework, for instance, and often she needs her computer for homework. Or the fact that she likes to listen to music while she writes, and I don't want N distracted by the noise when he's doing his homework. Or that she likes to shoot and create videos, and that noise is a problem. Or that she likes to video Skype with friends instead of talking on the phone, and that can get loud, too. You get the idea.

So the meeting last night was about addressing her needs for privacy and our needs for less chaos, and balancing them with my concerns about how much time she spends on the computer in general, about not being able to keep an eye on her online activities, and -- perhaps most importantly to me -- my need for her not to be spending all of her time at home in her room with the door closed.

It was a long and productive conversation, and we came to some decisions we all can live with. At the end, it was just Em and I at the table, and I was reiterating the main points of the agreement -- as I often, and no doubt maddeningly, like to do to be sure we're all agreeing to the same thing.

Finally, she asked, "OK. Are we done?"

And I said, "Yes, we're done. But please, do keep in mind, I really mean it about not spending all your time in your room. I need you to at least be out with the rest of us often enough that you can remember what we look like."

She was passing my chair as she came around the table to leave the kitchen, and she dropped a kiss on the top of my head.

"Of course I won't forget what you look like," she said, breezily. "I have lots of pictures of you on my computer."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Huge Small Gestures

It'd been a tough, long, long, tough day. It's been a crazy-busy, often long, occasionally tough month, to be honest. But today really took the cake. At the end of it, I'd spent six of my eight hours in the office in meetings.

(That is not an exaggeration. I wish it were an exaggeration, but it is not. They were good meetings, all, but there were six hours of them, which is--in and of itself--enough to make one call the day both long and tough. And there was other stuff, too--work stuff--that made it all feel even longer, and even tougher.)

At the end of this long, tough day, I was scheduled to head out to the synagogue, to help with some of the initial set-up for the bat-mitzvah luncheon of the daughter of one of my closest friends there. It was, to be honest, the last thing I wanted to do. And when I arrived home to pick up Em before heading right back out again, Baroy was in a totally stressed mood, having clashed with N over homework after the second day in a row in which major appliances have decided to try to die on us, and Em herself was near tears over Girl Drama at school.

Just another day in paradise.

But these are good friends; these are the friends who I know dragged themselves to the synagogue to set up for the luncheon after Em's bat mitzvah. (The family whose event it is is forbidden to come to these set-up events; it's the least we in the congregation can do to make the last few days just slightly less stressful.) What you make a commitment to help friends like these, you keep it. And so I did. I counseled Em on her problems through the ride over, parked the car, and put on my happy face as we entered the social hall to start wrapping 200 sets of utensils in napkins and tying them with ribbons. But, I'm telling was a strain. By then I was carrying around my problems, and Em's, and Baroy's, and N's. And I'm sure it showed.

And then, about 15 minutes after we'd arrived, the other two ladies in my little temple posse came bustling in--carrying three (count 'em, three) nonfat decaf vanilla lattes. Without a word, my friend J handed one of them to me and plonked herself down next to Em, while my friend D gave me a grin and plonked herself down next to me, and we set to work. We were done in under an hour.

On the way home, I said to Em, "Just in case you missed it...That cup of coffee? That meant everything to me tonight. Not the coffee itself so much as knowing that my friends were thinking of me, that they didn't have to ask, that they just knew what I'd need, even without knowing I needed it."

Em replied, "Sometimes it's just the little things, huh?"

And I said, "More often than not, they're more important than the big things."

But what I should have said was, they're bigger than the big things. They're huge. Even if they fit in a recyclable cardboard cup.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sudden Realization

N and I were driving home from Hebrew school when the lightning started. I'd told him we needed to stop at the supermarket on our way home, and he began to worry about being hit by lightning while we were in the store. (If you have a kid on the spectrum, you know that by "began to worry" what I really mean is "began to perseverate on and spiral into a full-on freakout over...")

I began to explain to him why we didn't need to worry about the store being hit by lightning, which only shifted the worryperseveration/freakout onto the possibility of being hit by lightning in the parking lot. I pointed out the tall light poles, and told him to just not hold onto one, and he'd be fine. I also began to tell him about how vanishingly rare it is for lightning to strike down right where a specific person is, and how he really didn't need to worry about it at all.

"Really," I said, "the only time you need to worry about lightning is when you're in a wide-open field with no trees, or on top of a mountain. And the WORST THING would be to be on a wide-open field on top of a mountain!"

At which point I stopped dead in my tracks, pulled out my phone, and texted Baroy.

ME: Ummmm... Top of mountain, open field, soccer practice, my daughter... Really? Still there?

BAROY: Yup. But under cover, talking.

ME: Oooookay. I guess.

Frickin' soccer. (According to Baroy, they'll be home--soaking wet, freezing cold, but apparently unfried--any minute now. But still.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

That Girl

We sat at the table, after dinner, me and my girl. Baroy and N were watching a movie in the other room; neither of us really wanted to see it.

That girl's goal kick is wicked.
Em was telling me about the meeting, that afternoon, of her middle school's environmental club. We were giggling, then straight-out laughing, then gasping for breath, tears streaming down our faces. (You had to be there.)

Later, Em talked about walking home afterward with her friend M. "Because it was so cold," she said, "we decided to stop at Starbucks on the way, get something warm to drink. It was so much nicer once we were walking with hot coffee* in our hands."

I smiled, seeing it, knowing that feeling. Then stopped. Everything stopped. Even my heart, for just a second.

"Oh my god," I said, more to myself than to her. "I can't believe you're there already. That you're that girl. That 'decided to stop for some coffee on the way home' girl. And I can't believe that it feels totally OK to me. If I don't think about it too much."

She grinned. "I was thinking almost the same thing," she said. "I sorta can't believe I'm that girl either."

And then she kissed me as she left to study for her history test, saying, "I really love having these talks with you."

That girl. Oh, that girl.

*Because my mother reads here, and because I can already hear her, let me say this: Decaf. On the same block as the school. Still light out. Let her father know she'd be a few minutes late. It's all good.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Break-Up Letter

Em's eighth-grade Advanced History teacher is young, innovative, and totally adorable. He lets me believe that there is still a way to be a good teacher, no matter how inhospitable the general environment is toward teaching in this NCLB era of insipidity.

Eighth grade is American History; the class is studying the Declaration of Independence. Their assignment? To write a break-up letter--following some very specific, Declaration-like guidelines--to anyone or any thing, living or dead, real or fictional.

Emily decided to write her break-up letter to Voldemort ... not as herself, but as Harry Potter.

She handed it in today, so I have no idea how it will go over, what her teacher will think of it. There's some awkwardness in the construction, and some typos (which I've left alone); it may not be the most insightful history essay ever written. (Actually, I know it's not, because my friend Ambre recently sent me an equally interesting assignment her daughter had been given, and THAT is the most insightful history essay ever written. I will brook no argument.)

But what I can say? I've never enjoyed reading a history paper more.

And with that, I give you...Em. As Harry.

Dear Voldemort,
            I regret very much what I am about to write.  Every word pains me, but I feel it is better for the both of us.  One of us had to make this decision; I guess it had to be me. I do not believe this “relationship” we are in is going to be good for us any longer.            
            Although our connection was accidental, it has helped me grow.  From this connection I have become famous.  I am the ‘Boy Who Lived,’ the ‘Chosen One’.  It has brought me enemies, but also very close friends.  The scar on my forehead reminds everyone just who I am.  We have also become dependent upon each other.  Because as you know, neither can live while the other survives.
             I could go on for…oh let’s say…7 books worth of stuff you’ve done wrong, but I think I’ll spare us all the details.  Here are just a couple of reasons why I think it is best we go our own ways.
1. You killed my parents.  So you didn’t like them; you could have just said so.
2. You’ve tried to kill ME several times.  It makes it pretty hard to trust you.
3. You’ve tortured my friends.  They’ve told me that this relationship we have is not healthy, but I tried to stay faithful.
4. You’ve put fake images in my head, putting me, and many others I love, in danger.
            Several times I found myself in a position where I could possibly have saved us, but you persisted in ignoring me. I tried to get you to realize that all you had to do was show some compassion or remorse.  It might have made things easier for you in the end. I also tried to stay out of your way.  I didn’t try to hunt you down; I just tried to keep a safe distance and hope we could get along better that way. But you just wouldn’t leave me alone.
            So, all this means one thing: it’s time for us to split.  I do not want you to hate me any more than you already do.  I want you to realize that this is better for both of us.  We have been mortal enemies my whole life, and I really think that if we just let go of all these negative feelings, it would be better not just for us, but for everyone.  So please just consider all this with an open mind, and I hope you have a good rest of your life.  
                                                                        Free From You,
                                                                        Harry Potter  

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Difference a Year Makes

[Part II of Beginnings is coming, I promise. It just needs time. It's a both more- and less-heartwarming story than Part I, and it's taking time and emotional energy, neither of which I have much of right now. Instead, let me tell you about my afternoon, via my Twitter feed...]

TC tinycoconut

The difference a year makes: Got note from RSP teacher asking if it wd help if they sent home extra sci/soc studies books for N to keep home

W/in two hrs, emails back and forth between RSP, classroom tchr, principal, and we'll have books in hand on Monday.

Not my idea; not something I asked for; creative, proactive problem-solving on school's part. I'm stunned...and grateful.

And, yes, I effusively thanked all parties. Hard to believe it's the same UNIVERSE, much less the same school, though.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beginnings, Part I

The kids had been back to school for less than two weeks when i met with N's teacher.

I could tell you all about our meeting. I would love to tell you all about our meeting, because I love talking about the good things. But, really, everything you need to know about that meeting was encapsulated in the first minutes of the school year. Actually, it was encapsulated in the first 30 seconds of the school year.

Here's how it went down.

The fourth grade is tiny. So tiny that, with the increased class sizes of the upper grades in our school district, all but eight of the fourth graders fit into one class. (The other eight are in a split fourth-fifth-grade class with a kick-ass teacher; they're the kind of kids who will do just fine there.) Add to that the fact that our school only posts classroom assignments on the morning of the first day of school, and you can just imagine the scene in front of the classroom, with 30-some 9-year-olds squealing and hugging and jumping all over each other in after-the-summer greetings.

And then there was N, standing over with Baroy and me by the parents, watching cautiously from somewhere behind my left hip. Not unhappy, really. Commenting that "all my friends are here!" but not joining in. Not saying hi to anyone. Not even responding when some of the kids threw him a greeting as they passed into the happy throng.

It was OK. Really. That's who he is, and it is OK.

And then it was time to enter the classroom, and he waited until the rest of the kids had formed a line before joining its tail end. He pulled on me; wanted Baroy and me to come in with him.

"I don't think fourth graders are supposed to have their parents come in with them," I said quietly. "See? All the other parents are staying outside the classroom."

He looked unhappy, mutinous. We walked alongside him toward the classroom door, and I held my breath. If he were to make a scene, if he were to refuse to go in without me...

And then we were at the door, and his teacher looked at Baroy and I and smiled, then leaned down to N. "N," she said. "I have all your stuff set up on your desk. It's right there, right in front, right next to where I sit. Your name is there, so you can find it. OK?"

And with that, he just...relaxed. Nodded, headed for the desk she'd pointed to, front and center, right next to the one girl he likes best. (Coincidence? I bet not.) Looked back at us, and smiled, waved. Waved us off; waved goodbye.

Outside the classroom, after watching the door close behind the teacher, Baroy and I looked at each other. Baroy doesn't cry easily, but he had tears in his eyes. As did I.

"Did she just do what I think she did?" he asked. "Did she just give him more accommodations than he got all of last year?"

"She's got him," I breathed. "She understands."

And that is why I don't need to tell you about our meeting. Because she gets him, N's fourth grade teacher. She understands. And that is really all that matters, for now. For the beginning. A good beginning.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Worst Part

I am the newsletter editor for our little shul. It's a volunteer job, and like all volunteer jobs, it has its baggage, as well as its delights.

I've always thought that one of the worst parts of the job is compiling the monthly Yahrzeit list--it's an anniversary list of sorts, but of deaths. It lets people know on which night they should light a candle, when to say kaddish. It's a necessary, useful task. But the list I get--though not the one I publish--includes the names of the congregants who need to get the reminder notice from the synagogue. It also includes the relationships of the deceased to those people. And so--as I strip that personal, private information from the list--I am reminded each month of another set of losses. I'll remember how hard S took it when her father passed; I'll notice that H lost two sons on the same day in some distant time, and that they were both in the military. I end up spending too much time thinking about deaths gone by. It's sobering.

But today, I realized that I'm wrong. That's not the worst. Not by a long shot. Because today, I'm compiling the birthday list.

This is my third year editing the newsletter; I've developed some shortcuts. One of those is to pull up the birthday list from that same month the year before, and just add any new members' names, or move a new 18-year-old from the Kids' Birthdays list to the Adults' Birthdays list.

Today? Well, today I had to highlight and delete an entry from the latter list. The name of a man I had great fondness for; a man whose wife I truly adore. A man whose funeral I attended less than two months ago. A man who won't be having a birthday this September. A man whose name will appear on the Yahrzeit list next June or July, where it will make me sigh, but where, maybe, it won't make me cry, because it will be an addition, not a deletion.

I do not like deletions.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Talk

[Warning: There are sorta kinda maybe spoilers in here. Not big ones, but...if you're reading any of the books I'm discussing, and are the kind of reader for whom even a vague mention of a plot point might give stuff away, you might want to tread cautiously.]

So now that the bat mitzvah is over and done with, I've been reading. And listening, which I call reading, even if it's done with my ears. And I have some things to say.

First: Who here read Her Fearful Symmetry? Because I have questions. Oh, so many questions. Mostly: What. The. Fuck? Did she run out of ink, and so decide after an entire book of detail and emotion to basically write the last 30 pages in code? More specifically: What was Robert's plan/decision, exactly, there at the end? What did it have to do with Jessica? What did Valentina do or say to Julia that changed her completely? Oh, don't give me that love of a good man bullshit.

Seriously, I hate spending that much time getting invested in a book only to have it make NO SENSE at the end. If you have thoughts--even if that thought is that I clearly am illiterate, and the book made total and absolute logical sense throughout--feel free to drop me a note at ihavethings at gmail dot com. (I think there's an email link over there in the sidebar, actually. But just in case not...) I need to talk about this one with someone.

Second: I should have admitted above that I almost always hate book endings. It's so hard not to disappoint me by wrapping up a story that I'm invested in. I'm trying to think of books whose endings really worked for me, but I'm coming up blank. Anyone? Any suggestions?

Third: I also recently finished Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed. That ending, while not one I'd call out as superlative, didn't disappoint. I actually thought it was a kickass book, to be honest. Well, a kickass book with some pretty big holes in its plot. I mean, the relationship with the daughter? Could that have possibly been less well developed? (Except for the Buffy scenes. Those made me smile.) And, um, what was that whole murder subplot about? But the relationship between Tim and Jane felt so real, in the midst of such an unreal situation, that it didn't really bother me.

Plus, I have a special weakness for Crazy Walking People. And Tim? Pretty much defines that.

Fourth: Have I mentioned that I've started reading these obscure little books about a young wizard? A series about a boy named Harry Potter, and his exploits at school? (Yep, that's me on the cutting edge of literature. Next, I think I'm going to check out this hot young writer I've heard about...Charles, oh, Dickens, I think his name is...) I've been listening to the audiobooks, actually; each time I finish one, we have a family movie night to watch that movie. My goal is to try to get through the last two before Part One of the seventh book comes out in the theaters; I'm a stickler about that sort of thing. Now that I'm done with Her Fearful Symmetry, Half-Blood Prince is up next. Problem is, I more-or-less know what happens in the books; or, at least, I know the major plot points. In other words, I know who dies. And if I thought Order of the Phoenix was difficult to get through as a result of my Sirius love...This one's gonna hurt.

It amazes me--truly amazes me--that I'm enjoying these this much. It amazes me even more that I'm willing to admit it out loud. (My book snobbiness is as much a part of me as my penchant for thrift-store clothes shopping. If you don't know that about me, you don't know me. I'm not proud of it; it just is.)

Fifth: What should I read next? I have a book list that is literally hundreds of books long; I'll never get through them all. Which is why I need suggestions of MORE books from you guys. (If you're a reader, you understand.)

And no, no matter what you say, I'm not reading Twilight.