Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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My second Vonnegut book.

September 7, 2011

I held this book in my hands several times before actually checking it out. Every time I’d wonder at the title, a phrase I’d heard so many times but never understood the full meaning of, I’d thumb through and look at the weird illustrations, also something I didn’t get. Something always stopped me from checking it out. Another book always overrode it, whether it was because of urgency, a better cover, whatever. I finally got it on a whim, knowing that I’d have to get one or two more books in of free reading before school would take over 24/7. At first, I was taken aback at the odd descriptions of “wide open beavers” and the like. I closed it after 30 pages and turned back to my laptop where everything was a bit more sane. I turned to the book again later that day and read more and more. And from there, I started loving it. Books and people are like, they both deserve a few chances if they doesn’t immediately capture you.

Excerpt #98:
People took such awful chances with chemicals and their bodies because they wanted the quality of their lives to improve. They lived in ugly places where there were only ugly things to do. They didn’t own doodley-squat, so they couldn’t improve their surroundings. So they did their best to make their insides beautiful instead. (72)

Excerpt #99:
“Trout was petrified there on Forty-second Street. It had give him a life not worth living, but I had also give him an iron will to live. This was a common combination on the planet Earth.”
(72)

Excerpt #100:
“God bless you,” said the manager. This was a fully automatic response many Americans had to hearing a person sneeze.
“Thank you,” sid Trout. Thus a temporary friendship was formed.
(75)

Excerpt #101
The driver got onto the subject of friends. He said it was hard for him to maintain friendships that meant anything because he was on the road most of the time. He joked about the time when he used to talk about his “best friends.” He guessed people stopped talking about best friends after they got out of junior high school.
He suggested that Trout, since Trout was in the combination aluminum storm window and screen business, had opportunities to build many lasting friendships in the course of his work. “I mean,” he said, “you get men working together day after day, putting up those windows, they get to know each other pretty well.”
“I work alone,” said Trout.
The driver was disappointed. “I assumed it would take two men to do the job.”
“Just one,” said Trout. “A weak little kid could do it without any help.”
The driver wanted Trout to have a rich social life so that he could enjoy it vicariously. “All the time,” he insisted, “you’ve got buddies you see after work. You have a few beers. You play some cards. You have some laughs.”
Trout shrugged.
“You walk down the same streets every day,” the driver told him. “You know a lot of people, and they know you, because it’s the same streets for you, day after day. You say, ‘Hello,’ and they say, ‘Hello, back. You call them by name. They call you by name. If you’re in a real jam, they’ll help you, because you’re one of ’em. You belong. They see you every day.”
Trout din’t want to argue about it.
(106-107)

Excerpt #102:
“Why would anybody in the business of highspeed transportation name his business and his trucks after buildings which haven’t moved an eighth of an inch since Christ was born?”
The driver’s answer was prompt. It was peevish, too, as though he thought Trout was stupid to have to ask a question like that. “He liked the sound of it. “Don’t you like the sound of it?”
Trout in order to keep things friendly. “Yes,” he said, “it’s a very nice sound.”

Trout sat back and thought about the conversation. He shaped it into a story, which he never got around to writing until he was an old, old man. It was about a planet where the language kept turning into pure music, because the creatures there were so enchanted by sounds. Words became musical notes. Sentences became melodies. They were useless as conveyors of information, because nobody knew or cared what the meanings of words were anymore.
So leaders in government and commerce, in order to function, had to invent new and much uglier vocabularies and sentence structures all the time, which would resist being transmuted to music.
(112-113)

Excerpt #103:
“The truck carrying Kilgore Trout was in West Virginia now. The surface of the state had been demolished by men and machinery and explosives in order to make it yield up its coal. The coal was mostly gone now. It had been turned into heat.
The surface of West Virginia, with its coal and trees and topsoil gone, was rearranging what was left of itself in conformity with laws of gravity. It was collapsing into all the holes which had been dug into it. Its mountains, which had once found it easy to stand by themselves were sliding into valleys now.
The demolition of West Virginia had taken place with the approval of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the State Government, which drew their power from the people.
Here and there an inhabited dwelling still stood.

He told Trout that people he’d heard of in the area who grabbed live copperheads and rattlesnakes during church services, to show how much they believed that Jesus would protect them.
“Takes all kinds of people to make up a world,” said Trout.

Trout marveled at how recently white men had arrived in West Virginia, and how quickly they had demolished it – for heat.
Now the heat was all gone, too – in outer space, Trout supposed. It had boiled water, and the steam had made steel windmills whiz around and around. The windmills had made rotors in generators whiz around and around. AMerica was jazzed with electricity for a while. Coal had also powered old-fashioned steamboats and choo-choo trains.
Kilgore Trout thought about the cries of steam whistles he had known, and about the destruction of West Virginia, which made their songs possible. He supposed that the heart-rending cries had fled into outer space, along with the heat. He was mistaken.
Like most science fiction writers, Trout knew almost nothing about science, was bored stiff by technical details. But no cry from a whistle had got very far from Earth for this reason: sound could only travel in an atmosphere, and the atmosphere of Earth relative to the planet wasn’t even as thick as the skin of an apple. Beyond that lay an all-but-perfect vacuum.
(123-127, excerpts)

Excerpt #104:
“It don’t seem right, though,” the old miner said to Trout, “that a man can own what’s underneath another man’s farm or woods or house. And any time the man wants to get what’s underneath all that, he’s got aright to wreck whats on top to get at it. The rights of the people on top of the ground don’t amount to nothing compared to the rights of the man who owns what’s underneath.”
(130)

Excerpt #105:
Dwayne and Francine made love in the Quality motor Court. Then they stayed in bed for a while. It was a water bed. Francine had a beautiful body. So did Dwayne. “We never made love in the afternoon before,” said Francine.
“I felt so tense,” said Dwayne.
“I know,” said Francine. “Are you better now?”
“Yes.” He was lying on his back. his ankles were crossed. His hands were folded behind his head. His great wang lay across his thigh like a salami. It slumbered now.
“I love you so much,” said Francine. She corrected herself. “I know I promised not to say that, but that’s a promise I can’t help breaking all the time.” The thing was: dwayne had made a pct with her that neither one of them was ever to mention love. Since Dwayne’s wife had eaten Drano, Dwayne never wanted to hear about love again. The subject was too painful.
Dwayne snuffled. It was customary for him to communicate by means of snuffles after sexual intercourse. The snuffles all had meanings which were bland: “That’s all right…forget it…who could blame you?” And so on.
“On Judgment Day, said Francine, “when they ask me what bad things I did down here, I’m going to have to tell them, ‘Well – there was a promise I made to a man I loved, and I broke it all the time. I promised him never to say I loved him.'”
(156)

Excerpt #106:
Oh, Mr. Trout,” nice Milo went on, there in Trout’s suite, “teach us to sing and dance and laugh and cry. We’ve tried to survive so long on money and sex and envy and real estate and football and basketball and automobiles and television and alcohol – on sawdust and broken glass!”
“Open your eyes!” said Trout bitterly. “Do I look like a dancer, a singer, am an of joy?” He was wearing his tuxedo now. It was a size too large for him. he had lost much weight since high school. His pockets were crammed with mothballs. They bulged like saddlebags.
“Open your eyes!” said Trout. “would a man nourished by beauty look like this? You haven oohing but desolation and desperation here, you say? I bring you more of the same!”
“My eyes are open,” said Milo warmly, “and I see exactly what I expect to see. I see a man who is terribly wounded – because he has dared to pass through the fires of truth to the other side, which we have never seen. And then he has come back again – to tell us about the other side.” (239-240)

Excerpt #107:
All of us were stuck to the surface of a ball, incidentally. The planet was ball-shaped. Nobody knew why we didn’t fall off, even though everybody pretended to kind of understand it. 
The really smart people understood that one of the best ways to get rich was to own a part of the surface people had to stick to. (247) 

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It’s About Time

January 7, 2011

I finally read some Truman Capote. He is the story teller we all aspire to be, he has it all polished and perfected. I don’t know why we try, when he has done it so well. This first one shows how truly talented writers can capture what we see in the sky during special hours of the day. The second one is an example of describing someone without making it cliche and uncreative. Every word in the paragraph is important and enhances our view of Joel, the main character. I wish I could write a paragraph where every word is needed. Masterful story-telling all through-out. READ IT.

Excerpt #83:
And now dusk was coming on. A sea of deepening green spread the sky like some queer wine, and across this vast green, shadowed clouds were pushed sluggishly by a mild breeze. (27)

Excerpt #84:
Radclif eyed the boy over the rim of his beer glass, not caring much for the looks of him. He had his notions of what a “real” boy should look like, and this kid somehow offended them. He was too pretty, too delicate and fair-skinned; each of his features was shaped with a sensitive accuracy, and a girlish tenderness softened his eyes, which were brown and very large. His brown hair, cut short, was streaked with pure yellow strands. A kind of tired, imploring expression masked his thin face, and there was an unyouthful sag about his shoulders. He wore long, wrinkled white linen breeches, a limp blue shirt, the collar of which was open at the throat, and rather scuffed tan shoes. (4-5)

Excerpt #85:
He remembered entering the house, and stumbling through an odd chamber of a hall where the walls were alive with the tossing shadows of candleflames; and Miss Amy, her finger pressed against her lips, leading him with robber stealth up a curving, carpeted stairway and along a second corridor to the door of this room; all a sleep-walker’s pattern of jigsaw incidents, and so, as Miss Amy stood by the bureau regarding the bluejay on is new perch, it was more or less the same as seeing her for the first time.

Excerpt #86:
But Joel had talked, and in talking eased away his worries, and Zoo told tales, tall funny sad, and now and again their voices had met and made a song, a summer kitchen ballad.

Excerpt #87:
“There’s lots you don’t know. All kinds of strange things…mostly they happened before we were born: that makes them seem to me so much more real.”
Before birth; yes, what time was it then? A time like now, and when they were dead, it would be still like now: these trees, that sky, this earth, those acorn seeds, sun and wind, all the same, while they, with dust-turned hearts, change only. Now at thirteen Joel was nearer a knowledge of death than in any year to come: a flower was blooming inside him, and soon, when all tight leaves unfurled, when the noon of youth burned whitest, he would turn and look, as others had, for the opening of another door.

Excerpt #88: Joel and Idabel, a girl he has met, though I would not call her his friend, are going to bathe in the river because that is what Idabel is accustomed to do.
Joel looked shyly at the designated place. “But you’re a girl.”
With an exceedingly contemptuous expression, Idabel drew up to her full height. “Son,” she said, and spit between her fingers, “what you’ve got in your britches is no news to me, and no concern of mine: hell, I’ve fooled around with nobody but boys since first grade> I never think like I’m a girl; you’ve got to remember that, or we can’t never be friends.” For all its bravado, she made this declaration with a special and compelling innocence; and when she knocked one fist against the other, as, frowning, she did now, and said: “I want so much to be a boy: I would be a sailor, I would…” the quality of her futility was touching.
Joel stood up and began to unbutton his shirt.
He lay there on a bed of cold pebbles, the cool water washing, rippling over him; he wished he were a leaf, like the current-carried leaves riding past: leaf-boy, he would float lightly away, float and fade into a river, an ocean, the world’s great flood. Holding his nose, he put his head underwater: he was six years old, and his penny-colored eyes were round with terror; Holy Ghost, the preacher said, pressing him down into baptism water; he screamed, and his mother, watching from a front pew, rushed forward, took him in her arms, held him, whispered softly: my darling, my darling. He lifted his face from the great stillness, and, as Idabel splashed a playful wave, seven years vanished in an instant.
“You look like a plucked chicken,” said Idabel. “So skinny and white.”
Joel’s shoulders contracted self-consciously. Despite Idabel’s quite genuine lack of interest in his nakedness, he could not make so casual an adjustment to the situation as she seemed to expect.
Idabel said: “hold still, now, and I’ll shampoo your hair.” Her own was a maze of lather-curls like cake icing. Without clothes, her figure was, if anything, more boyish: She seemed mostly legs, like a crane, or a walker on modified stilts, and freckles, dappling her rather delicate shoulders, gave her a curiously wistful look. But already her breast had commenced to swell, and there was about her hips a mild suggestion of approaching width. Joel, having conceived of Idabel as gloomy, and cantankerous, was surprised at how funny and gay she could be… (131-133)

Excerpt #89:
Smiling, smoothing the back of his hair, he put out the cigarette, and picked up his brush. “Inasmuch as I was born dead, how ironic that I should die at all; yes, born dead, literally: the midwife was perverse enough to slap me into life. Or did she?” He looked at Joel in an amused way. “Answer me: did she?”
“Did she what?” said Joel, for, as usual, he did not understand: Randolph seemed always to be carrying on in an unfathomable vocabulary secret dialogues with someone unseen. “Randolph,” he said, “please don’t be mad with me: it’s only that you say things in such a funny way.”
“Never mind,” said Randolph, “all difficult music must be heard more than once. And if what I tell you now sounds senseless, it will in retrospect seem far too clear; and when this happens, when those flowers in your eyes wither, irrecoverable as they are, why, though no tears helped dissolve my own cocoon, I shall weep a little for you.” (139)

Excerpt #90:
“They can romanticize us so, mirrors, and that is their secret: what a subtle torture it would be to destroy all the mirrors in the world: where then could we look for reassurance of our identities? I tell you, my dear, Narcissus was no egotist…he was merely another one of us who, in our unshatterable isolation, recognized, on seeing his reflection, the one beautiful comrade, the only inseparable love…poor Narcissus, possibly the only human who was ever honest at this point. (140)

Excerpt #91:
And there was this other thing: we very seldom talked; I can never remember having with Dolores a sustained conversation; there was always between us something muted, hushed; still our silence was not of a secret kind, for in itself it communicated that wonderful peace those who understand each other very well sometimes achieve…yet neither knew the other truly, for at that time we did not really know ourselves. (143)

Excerpt #92:
“…for one couldn’t ignore the not very discreet interplay between Dolores and the young Mexican: they were lovers, even slow-witted Amy could’ve perceived this, and I was not surprised: Pepe was so extraordinary: his face was alive, yet dreamlike, brutal, yet boyish, foreign but familiar (as something from childhood is familiar), both shy and aggressive, both sleeping and awake. (146)

Excerpt #93:
“And Dolores continued with Pepe in her queer compulsive way, not really interested one way or another, not caring whether he stayed or went; like some brainless plant, she lived (existed) beyond her own control in that reckless book of dreams. She could not help me. What we most want is only to be held…and told…that everything (everything is a funny thing, is baby milk and Papa’s eyes, is roaring logs on a cold morning, is hoot-owls and the boy who makes you cry after school, is Mama’s long hair, is being afraid and twisted faces on the bedroom wall)…everything is going to be all right. (148)

Excerpt #94:
“All right, listen: late that afternoon when I woke up rain was at the window and on the roof: a kind of silence, if I may say, was walking through the house, and, like most silence, it was not silent at all: it rapped on doors, echoed in the clocks,creaked on the stairs, leaned forward to peer into my face and explode. Below a radio talked and sang, yet I knew no one heard it: she was gone, and Pepe with her.” (151)

Excerpt #95:
Moss cushioned their footsteps as they moved through the leafy thickness, and came to pause at the edge of an opening: two Negroes, caught in a filmy skein of moon and fern, lay unclothed and enfolded, the man’s caramel-colored body braceleted with his darker lover’s arms, legs, his lips nuzzling her nipples: oo-we, oo-we, sweet Simon, she sighed, love shivering her voice, love rolling through her like thunder; easy, Simon, sweet Simon, easy honey, she crooned, and tensed then, her arms lifting as if to embrace the moon; her lover sank across her, and there together, limbs akimbo, they made on the bloom of moss a black fallen star. Idabel retreated with splashful, rowdy haste, and Joel, trying to keep up, went “shh! shh,” thinking how wrong to frighten the lovers, and wishing, too, that she’d waited longer, for watching them it had been as if his heart were beating all over his body, and all undefined whisperings had gathered into one yearning roar: he knew now, and it was not a giggle or a sudden white-hot word; only two people with each other in withness, and it was as though a tide had receded leaving him dry on a beach white as bone, and it was good at last to have come from so grey so cold a sea. (188)

Excerpt #96:
“…I cry sometimes to think little boys must grow tall.” Her voice, while making this memoir, had stiffened solemnly, and her hands folded themselves quietly in her lap. Idabel waved, shouted, but wind carried her words another way, and sadly Miss Wisteria said: “Poor child, is it hat she believes she is a freak, too?” She placed her hand on his thigh, and then ,as though she had no control over them whatsoever,r her fingers crept up inside his legs: she stared at the hand with shocked intensity but seemed unable to remove it, and Joel, disturbed but knowing now he wanted never to hurt anyone, not Miss Wisteria, nor Idabel, nor the little girl with the corncob doll, wished so much he could say: it doesn’t matter, I love you, I love your hand. The world was a frightening place, yes, he knew: unlasting, what could be forever? or only what it seemed? rock corrodes, rivers freeze, fruit rots; stabbed, blood of black and white bleeds alike; trained parrots tell more truth than most, and who is lonelier: the hawk or the worm? every flowering heart shrivels dry and pitted as the herb from which it bloomed, and while the old man grows spinsterish, his wife assumes a mustache, moment to moment, changing, changing, like the cars on the ferris-wheel. Grass and love are always greener; but remember Little Three Eyes? show her love and apples ripen gold, love vanquishes the Snow Queen, its presence finds the name, be it Rumpelstiltskin or merely Joel Knox: that is constant. (195-196)

Excerpt #97:
Another day, and though the air was mild, he built a fire by which they toasted marshmallows and sipped tea from cups two hundred years old. (209)

-Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

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Unlike any other book

August 25, 2010

This book blew my mind – the entire time I was reading it I never stopped thinking about it, that’s how much I cared about the characters. I put it on my “Want to read” list more than a year ago, and I finally revisited that list when the cover caught my eye. Luckily, the main library had it, and a few days later I was done. I don’t normally finish books fast. Normally, I read about 30 pages a day, or there are a few days when I don’t read it. Not so with this one – the different points of you and the addictive storyline made me continue even when my eyes were tired.

Excerpt #77: Dana. (I’m making this detailed and not leaving anything out just so you can see/I can remember what a thorough job they did of showing her point of view – how they get in her head so well and make us realize exactly what it feels like. It’s not just an inherent feeling that knowing something is wrong, it’s literally not being able to stand the body you are in…very hard to deal with. Anyways, the book explains it far better than I do, so…)
There are two worlds of people around me.
There is a world in which everyone knows I was born a man, and there is a world in which no one has any clue whatsoever.
Sometimes, the two orbits will overlap, and a person will discover rather suddenly my history with gender. If that person is particularly brazen – or, it seems, a reporter – he (and yes, in my experience more times than not it has indeed been a he will ask one or both of two questions:
Does it work? (Translation: Do you have orgasms?)
Did I ever assume I was merely a homosexual? (Translation: Isn’t this just about penetration? About wanting to be penetrated?)
The first question is actually much easier to answer than I imagine it is to ask. Yes, I can answer honestly, it works just fine. (Translation: Touch me right and you’ll have to peel me off the ceiling.)
The second question is more complicated, and it seemed to me that some of the folks from NPR – one engineer in particular – were always coming back to it. It was clear they were trying to be tolerant and open-minded, but their inquiries implied they suspected that I’d been driven to my decision by an army of unbearable homophobes.
Always, of course, they were forgetting completely one teeny-tiny detail: I was gay! I just happened to be a gay woman.
Now, in all fairness, I had indeed toyed with the notion that I might be a gay male at different times in my life, but it was always a desperate, and increasingly pathetic, fantasy. After all, even in this world it’s a hell of a lot easier to be a gay male than a transsexual.
More important, that second question assumes that gender is all about sex, or that sexual preference is at the core of our gender. I can’t speak for other transsexuals, but there is no way on God’s green earth I would have become a born-again woman just so the sex would be hot. No orgasm in the world is worth all that electrolysis.
Truthfully, I became an external woman because I have always been an internal woman. That’s all there is to it. And I’ve known this most of my life. I think I had the first solid clue when my sister was born. I was five, and my parents put her in my arms on the couch in our living room, and I was absolutely enchanted. I told them I couldn’t wait to have a baby emerge from my tummy, too.

And while my parents took comfort in the notion that my tantrum was simple panic because I had lost a monopoly on their attention, I knew the awful truth. The things I wanted most in the world were going to be forever denied me.
Worse, when I started elementary school, I learned that even small manifestations of femininity would be out of the question, too, and that my desires were, apparently, perverse. Yes, I wanted someday to have a real baby and real breasts, but at six, I would have been pacified with a plastic doll that looked like a newborn, and a couple of pretend diapers.
I knew, however not to speak up.
I knew not to ask for dolls that were babies, and I knew not to ask for dolls that looked like Amazon models with eating disorders. I knew not to ask for dress-up clothes and little-girl makeup, I knew not to pretend I was a princess or a mermaid or a bride. I knew not to be a girl.
At least I knew not to in front of my family and friends.
Sometimes in my room, however, when I had shut my door for the night, I would go to the store. I placed my desk chair behind my toy chest and put my plastic cash register upon it. And then I would be the sales assistant one moment and Dana the customer the next, and I would pretend to buy a frilly dress with pink floral edging along the collar and sleeves. I would purchase a handbag, long shiny hair like my mother’s – a chesnut-colored apron my parents never used would suffice – ad I would leave the emporium shaped like an hourglass Barbie. Then I would crawl back into bed and press my little penis and my little balls deep behind the fat on my six- and seven-year-old thighs, and finally I would fall asleep.
Some nights, I’d be crying. Some nights, not.
Sometimes I would take off my pajama bottoms and sleep in only my pajama top, pretending the loose shirt was actually a little girl’s nightgown. (44-46)

Excerpt #78: Allison, who is in love with Dana, and doesn’t know he is a transsexual.
Once, when I’d had a few glasses of wine, I found myself examining his face in the candlelight – first with my eyes, and then with the tips of my fingers – and I believe I almost asked him something. Why are you so beautiful? perhaps. Why are you so smooth? What is it about your face that I love?
But I didn’t. A big part of the allure was the mystery: A magic trick loses its luster once you know the secret. (64)

Excerpt #79, Allison:
In return, all Dana wanted for me was to be a woman. To be womanly. He would watch me shave my legs and my underarms, he would stare as I pulled on panty hose or a bra. He would want to see how I sat when I talked on the phone with Carly, and to listen in when I chatted at night with Nancy or Molly or my mother in Philadelphia.
“How would you butter your toast?” he would ask, and he would be completely sincere. The fact is, women do butter their bread very differently from men.
“Let me watch you climb into your car,” he would say, and I would show him.
“Brush your hair again, please.”
“Would you flip through a newspaper?”
“How do you pick up a pen?”
It was never annoying: I felt, simultaneously, like a cherished possession anda goddess. A woman loved on a variety of levels. A woman loved for all the right reasons, and for ones to small to matter in any other relationship I could have. The way I held a book when I read on the couch. The fact that I would sleep on my side five or six days before my period, because my breasts would be tender. The things I carried in my purse.
And so although I adore teaching – and although I had a particularly sweet and smart group of kids that year – there were some mornings when I could barely bring myself to put on my overcoat and leave the remarkable world I had in my house.

Excerpt #80, Allison:
“I mean, you have a daughter,” she said. “Carly, right? I know she’s away at school now. But I have to ask: What would you do if your Carly came home from college with a transsexual boyfriend or girlfriend?”
It was a great question, one that had certainly crossed my mind that winter. But it was also one that I’d been careful not to answer, always relegating it to a remote crevice in my brain. That won’t happen, I’d tell myself. It would be like getting daggered by lightning twice in a night. But the question clearly frightened me, because I knew on some level that regardless of whatever my final answer turned out to be, my initial reaction would be a shudder. No parent wants their child to fall in love with a transsexual. For the vast majority if the world, the only thing worse than having a transsexual for a son- or a daughter-in-law would be to have one for a child.
“If Carly came home one evening with a transsexual friend,” I answered, not exactly lying but certainly not telling the truth, “I would offer to make them both dinner. And then I’d put out clean towels in the bathroom.”
“I couldn’t do that,” Audrey’s mom said, and I thought her voice was going to break. “I’d be too busy crying. I’d be too busy crying for her and for me, and for her new friend.”
I curled my lips against my teeth, moved by her candor. I knew in my heart I’d cry, too. (204)

Excerpt #81 (Will, Allison’s ex-husband, divorced over a decade ago):
And I would allow to hug her as a friend. I would touch her the way I might have touched any of Allie’s or Patricia’s female pals, or the various women I knew who were married to my male friends. I would give her an embrace that was warm but not overtly sexual. I would shake her hand gently. I would not touch her legs or her hair, which for male friends are off-limits, but I would graze her arm with my fingers when it was appropriate.
But aren’t even those touches sexual?
That was the otherwise: For men, on some level, it’s all sexual. It might be that way for women, too, but I can’t speak for women. For men, however, it’s always about sex. We are what we are. Whenever I thought about touching Dana, I realized that I hadn’t ever touched a woman without understanding on some plane that we were different genders, and succumbing to the sexual charge – sometimes awkward, sometimes teasing, sometimes downright thrilling – that was as involuntary as it was inevitable. It was, in its own way, pro forma. Men don’t hug women without thinking of sex. It may be for the merest second, the flutter of a hummingbird’s wing. But it’s there and it’s real. After all, that’s a woman’s shoulder blade you are touching or patting or caressing for the briefest twinkling. Those are a woman’s breasts that are pressed against your chest when you squeeze her to you after a dinner party. That human being in your arms for an instant? Your bodies fit together, and the genome that limned you and the memes that control you…they understand this and crave her.
And so when I’d hug Dana or touch the inside of her palm with the inside of mine (a handshake, yet so suggestive) or my fingers would find their way to one of her arms, I would experience a sexual rippled and wonder why I had felt such a thing – why I had courted such a thing. And the answer would be because she was pretty and she was smart and she was feminine. The otherwise that was the euphemism in my mind for penis and balls and a chest with a rug would be subsumed by the scent of her perfume and the softness of her skin. The small of her back. The feel of her body forming itself next to mine for the split second that it takes to embrace as…friends.
Even the word transsexual had grown less disconcerting. Less foreign. It began to seem less like a scientific abomination – man into woman with the aid of hormones and scalpel – and more like a medicine. A woman healed.
One time when Dana was with Kevin, and Allie and I were alone, I asked her if she thought she was gay because she was attracted to Dana.
“No,” she said, and then she asked the question of me that only my Allie would ask. “Do you think you are?” (280-281)

Excerpt #82, Allison:
I found it interesting that when I was most angry with Dana that spring, I would inadvertently revert to male pronouns and a male image – to Dana Stevens before her reassignment. He used me, I’d think, and the image in m mind would be the man I’d once known who wore his hair in a ponytail.
But then I would think to myself, How? How had he used me? Yes, I’d wound up as his model woman – her model woman – but I was the one who had called Dana back in September after she revealed to me her intention on a cliff high in Lincoln. I was the one who had proposed that she move into my house. I was the one who had suggested she would need company in Colorado, and offered to go with her.
And, in return, I had received a very great deal. I’m not sure other people would see it that way, I’m not even sure Dana would. But I did, and I don’t mean simply the company or the conversation or the way my house seemed to smell of freshly baked bread all the time. Nor am I referring to the sex, which, though it often confused me, always left me deeply satisfied. More than any of that, first he – and then she – had given me the faith, however brief, that I might not wander unescorted through the rest of my life. We had been in love, and for months and months I had had hope – one of the greatest gifts you can give someone on the far side of forty.
When I would realize that, my anger would dissipate. I would no longer be mad. I would even feel a twinge of what might have been guilt. Or, at least, disappointment in myself. What did it say about me, I would wonder, that I could only love Dana as a man? Was I really that intractable, that emotionally obstinate? Or was sexual preference so profoundly ingrained in my gray matter and soul that even the desperate attraction I had felt for Dana the preceding September – a desire that in the days before our hike to the cliff may have bordered on rapture – couldn’t budge it?
The irony there was inescapable. It was the man who had made me angry, but it was also the man whom I seemed to love. (313)

-Trans-Sister Radio, Chris Bohjalian

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So it goes.

August 18, 2010

This author has been in my head for a long time. My first read by him was so good that it took me way too long to read. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it was open on page 80 until I was on public transportation where a computer wasn’t available to distract me – I started devouring it then. This book is sensitive, it makes me cringe, it’s very uniquely written – there are no extraneous words, each one enhances the scene or emotion or description. That fascinates me. Here is a taste. (As a sidenote: the main character of this book, Billy Pilgrim, has no sense of time.) Well, this was written after I typed up all the excerpts. I realize I gave you all more than a taste…I gave you a meal. It’s a good one though, please try it. I bolded my favorite parts if you’re not hungry enough for all of these words. Or, you know, you could just go check out the book and read the entire thing.

Excerpt #70:
From there he traveled in time to 1965. He was forty-one years old, and he was visiting his decrepit mother at Pine Knoll, an old people’s home he had put her in only a month before. She had caught pneumonia, and wasn’t expected to live. She did live, though, for years after that.
Her voice was nearly gone, so, in order to hear her, Billy had to put his ear right next to her papery lips. She evidently had something very important to say.
“How…?” she began, and she stopped. She was too tired. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to say the rest of the sentence, that Billy would finish it for her.
But Billy had no idea what was on her mind. “How what, Mother?” he prompted.
She swallowed hard, shed some tears. Then she gathered energy from all over her ruined body, even from her toes and fingertips. At least she had accumulated enough to whisper this complete sentence:
“How did I get so old?” (44)

Excerpt #71:
Billy Pilgrim, there in the creekbed, thought he, Billy Pilgrim, was turning to steam painlessly. If everybody would leave him alone for just a little while, he thought, he wouldn’t cause anybody any more trouble. He would turn to steam and float up among the treetops.
Somewhere the big dog barked again. With the help of fear and echoes and winter silences, that dog had a voice like a big bronze gong.
Roland Weary, eighteen years old, insinuated himself between the scouts, draped a heavy arm around the shoulder of each. “So what do the Three Musketeers do now?” he said.
Billy Pilgrim was having a delightful hallucination. He was wearing dry, warm, white sweatsocks, and he was skating on a ballroom floor. Thousands cheered. This wasn’t time-travel. It had never happened, never would happen. It was the craziness of a dying young man with his shoes full of snow. (49)

Excerpt #72:
Even though Billy’s train wasn’t moving, its boxcars were kept locked tight. Nobody was to get off until the final destination. To the guards who walked up and down outside, each car became a single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators. It talked or sometimes yelled through its ventilators, too. In went water and loaves of black bread and sausage and cheese, and out came shit and piss and language.
Human beings in there were excreting into steel helmets which were passed to the people at the ventilators, who dumped them. Billy was a dumper. The human beings also passed canteens, which guards would fill with water. When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared. (70)

Excerpt #73:
Now he was indoors, next to an iron cookstove that was glowing cherry red. Dozens of teapots were boiling there. Some of them had whistles. And there was a witches’ cauldron full of golden soup. The soup was thick. Primeval bubbles surfaced it with lethargical majesty as Billy Pilgrim stared. (95)

There was silence now, as the Englishmen looked in astonishment at the frowsy creatures they had so lustily waltzed inside. One of the Englishmen saw that Billy was on fire. “You’re on fire, lad!” he said, and he got Billy away from the stove and beat out the sparks with his hands.
When Billy made no comment on this, the Englishman asked him, “Can you talk? Can you hear?”
Billy nodded.
The Englishman touched him exploratorily here and there, filled with pity. “My God – what have they done to you, lad? This isn’t a man. It’s a broken kite.”
(97)

Excerpt #74:
Derby described the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for other Earthlings when they don’t want those other Earthlings to inhabit earth any more. Shells were bursting in the treetops with terrific bangs, he said, showering down knives and needles and razorblades. Little lumps of lead in copper jackets were crisscrossing the woods under the shellbursts, zipping along much faster than sound.
A lot of people were being wounded or killed. So it goes.
Then the shelling stopped, and a hidden German with a loudspeaker told the Americans to put their weapons down and come out of the woods with their hands on top of their heads, or the shelling would start again. It wouldn’t stop until everybody in there was dead.
So the Americans put their weapons down, and they came out of the woods with their hands on top of their heads, because they wanted to go on living, if they possibly could. (106-107)

Excerpt #75:
“Dresden was destroyed on the night of February 13, 1945,” Billy Pilgrim began. “We came out of our shelter the next day.” He told Montana about the four guards who, in their astonishment and grief, resembled a barbershop quartet. He told her about the stockyards with all the fenceposts gone, with roofs and windows gone – told her about seeing little logs lying around. There were people who had been caught in the fire storm. So it goes.
Billy told her what had happened to the buildings that used to form cliffs around the stockyards. They had collapsed. Their wood had been consumed, and their stones had crashed down, had tumbled against one another until they locked at last in low and graceful curves.
“It was like the moon,” said Billy Pilgrim.

The guards told the Americans to form in ranks of four, which they did. Then they had them march back to the hog barn which had een their home. Its walls still stood, but its windows and roof were gone, and there was nothing inside but ashes and dollops of melted glass. It was realized then that there was no food or water, and that the survivors, if they were going to continue to survive, were going to have to climb over curve after curve on the face of the moon.
Which they did.

The curves were smooth only when seen from a distance. The people climbed them learned that they were treacherous, jagged things – hot to the touch, often unstable – eager, should certain important rocks be disturbed, to tumble some more, to form lower, more solid curves.
Nobody talked much as the expedition crossed the moon. There was nothing appropriate to say. One thing was clear:
Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all. (179-180)

Excerpt #76:
(Billy has fallen asleep in the wagon while the rest have gone to search for souvenirs on what they called home before the fire-bombing on Dresden.)
Billy Opened his eyes. A middle-aged man and wife were crooning to the horses. They were noticing what the Americans had not noticed – that the horses mouths were bleeding, gashed by the bits, that the horses’ hooves were broken, so that every step meant agony, that the horses were insane with thirst. The Americans had treated their form of transportation as thought it were no more sensitive than a six-cylinder Chevrolet.

These two horse pitiers moved back along the wagon to where they could gaze in patronizing reproach at Billy – at Billy Pilgrim, who was so long and weak, so ridiculous in his azure toga and silver shoes. They weren’t afraid of him. They weren’t afraid of anything. They were doctors, both obstetricians. They had been delivering babies until the hospitals were all burned down. Now they were picnicking near where their apartment used to be.
The woman was softly beautiful, translucent from having eaten potatoes for so long. The man wore a business suit, necktie and all. Potatoes had made him gaunt. He was as tall s Billy, wore steel-rimmed trifocals. This couple, so involved with babies, had never reproduced themselves, thought they could have. This was an interesting comment on the whole idea of reproduction.
They had nine languages between them. They tried Polish on Billy Pilgrim first, since he was dressed so clownlishly, since the wretched Poles were the involuntary clowns of the Second World War.
Billy asked them in English what it was they wanted, and they at once scolded him in English for the condition of the horses. They made Billy get out of the wagon and come look at the horses. When Billy saw the condition of his means of transportation, he burst into tears. He hadn’t cried about anything else in the war. (196-197)

-Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut

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Another Dose of Chuck – The more people die, the more things stay the same.

July 18, 2010

It has been so long I had a two-second memory lapse of my password! I bring you great excerpts, read in two countries: Israel and America. The only thing that connected these two countries was this book. I read it in my grandma’s house, in my other grandma’s apartment, on various airplanes, at home, in a car, and at the beach. So this book and I have gone to many places together. It’s twisted and disturbing, as all of Chuck’s books are, but what dominates is how riveting the storyline is and how the writing just goes forward forward forward, all the time.

Excerpt #64:
People who would never throw litter from their car will drive past you with their radio blaring. People who’d never blow cigar smoke at you in a crowded restaurant will bellow into their cell phone. They’ll shout at each other across the space of a dinner plate.
These people who would never spray herbicides or insecticides will fog the neighborhood with their stereo playing Scottish bagpipe music. Chinese opera. Country and western.
Outdoors, a bird singing is fine. Patsy Cline is not.
Outdoors, the din of traffic is bad enough. Adding Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E Minor is not making the situation any better.
You turn up your music to hide the noise. Other people turn up their music to hide yours. You turn up yours again. Everyone buys a bigger stereo system. This is the arms race of sound. You don’t win with a lot of treble.
This isn’t about quality. It’s about volume.
This isn’t about music. This is about winning.
You stomp the competition with the bass line. You rattle windows. You drop the melody line and shout the lyrics. You put in foul language and come down hard on each cussword.
You dominate. This is really about power. (16-17)

Excerpt #65:
These music-oholics. These calm-ophobics.
No one wants to admit we’re addicted to music. That’s just not possible. No one’s addicted to music and television and radio. We just need more of it, more channels, a larger screen, more volume. We can’t be without it, but no, nobody’s addicted.
We could turn it off anytime we wanted. (18)

The sound shivers through the walls, through the table, through the window frame, and into my finger.
These distraction-oholics. These focus-ophobics.
Old George Orwell got it backward.
Big brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re awake. He’s making sure you’re always distracted. He’s making sure you’re fully absorbed.
He’s making sure your imagination withers. Until it’s as useful as your appendix. He’s making sure your attention is always filled.
And this being fed, it’s worse than being watched. With the world always filling you, no one has to worry about what’s in your mind. With everyone’s imagination atrophied, no one will ever be a threat to the world. (18-19)

Excerpt #66:
There are worse things you can do to the people you love than kill them. The regular way is just to watch the world do it. Just read the newspaper.
The music and laughter eat away at your thoughts. The noise blots them out. All the sound distracts. Your head aches from the glue.
Anymore, no one’s mind is their own. You can’t concentrate. You can’t think. There’s always some noise worming in. Singers shouting. Dead people laughing. Actors crying. All these little doses of emotion.
Someone’s always spraying the air with their mood. (19)

Excerpt #67:
In a world where the culling song was common knowledge, there would be sound blackouts. Like during wartime, wardens would patrol. But instead of hunting for light, they’d listen for noise and tell people to shut up. The way governments look for air and water pollution, these same governments would pinpoint anything above a whisper, then make an arrest. There would be helicopters, special muffled helicopters, of course, to search for noise the way they search for marijuana now. People would tiptoe around in rubber-soled shoes. Informers would listen at ever keyhole.
It would be a dangerous, frightened world, but at least you could sleep with your windows open. It would be a world where each word was worth a thousand pictures. (60)

Excerpt #68, (on a ferris wheel):
We rise higher, farther from the smells, away from the diesel engine noise. We rise up into the quiet and cold. Mona, reading the planner book, gets smaller. All the crowds of people, their money and elbows and cowboy boots, get smaller. The food booths and the portable toilets get smaller. The screams and rock music, smaller.
At the top, we jerk to a stop. Our seat sways less and less until we’re sitting still. This high up, the breeze teases, rats, back-combs Helen’s pink bubble of hair. The neon grease an d mud, from this far away, it all looks perfect. Perfect, safe, and happy.
The music’s just a dull thud, thud, thud.
This is how we must look to God. (199)

Excerpt #69:
Looking out the car window, Oyster says, “You ever wonder if Adam and Eve were just the puppies God dumped because they wouldn’t house-train?”
He rolls down the window and the smell blows inside, the stinking warm wind of dead fish, and shouting against the wind, he says, “Maybe humans are just the pet alligators that God flushed down the toilet.” (143)

Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk

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Ahh, look at all the lonely people…

March 29, 2010

Douglas Coupland reminds me of Augusten Burroughs (his wit and abstract sense of humor) and Chuck Palahniuk (story telling time sequences and whatnot) in one. Therefore, he is making his way on to the list of my favorite authors. I’ve read 4 books by him now, my most recent book of his will be the subject of this entry. It’s about a lonely woman, to say the very least. Once I finished this book on a Saturday morning, postponing my much-needed shower just so I could see how it ended, I missed Liz Dunn so much. I still miss her.

Excerpt #60:
One of my big problems is time sickness. When I feel lonely, I assume that the mood will never pass – that I’ll feel lonely and bad for the rest of my life, which means that I’ve wrecked both the present and the future. And if I look back on my past, I wreck that too, by concentrating on all the things I did wrong. The brutal thing about time sickness is that naming it is no cure.
I look at the philodendron on the kitchen windowsill, the only thing in my condo that never changes. I found it at a bus stop twelve years ago and I’ve kept it going ever since. I like it because up close its leaves are pretty, and also because it makes me think of time in a way that doesn’t totally depress me.
If I could go back in time two decades and give just one piece of advice to a younger me, it would be, “Don’t worry so damn much.” But because young people never believe old people, I’d most likely ignore my own advice.
If there’s a future Liz Dunn out there in, say, 2034, may I respectfully ask you to time travel back to right now and give me the advice I need? I promise you, I’ll listen, and I’ll give you a piece of my philodendron to take back with you so you can grow your own plant there. (12)

Excerpt #61:
The boys were bored and, like us, jet lagged. The Vatican trip felt forced and dutiful. It made us wonder if Rome had the equivalent of a Playboy Mansion that was deliberately being concealed from us. We stood there like dock pilings, waiting and waiting and waiting for this little white dot of a man to come out onto a balcony and do something with his hands while his amplified voice frightened pigeons and reminded us that we were hungry and that the morning’s cafe latte and croissant ha long since been metabolized. (65)

Excerpt #62:
I wish modern science would invent a drug that causes time to feel much longer, the way it felt when you were a child. What a great drug. A year would feel like a year, not ten minutes. Your adulthood would feel long and full instead of like some out-of-control carnival ride. Who would want a drug like this? Older people, I’d guess – people whose sense of passing time has hit the acceleration pedal.
And I guess they ought to also invent a drug capable of the opposite effect. Again, there’d be no immediate sensation, but after a year of the drug you’d say, Wow! Has it been a year already? It feels like just yesterday. Who’d take that drug? Me, when I’m lonely, And prisoners with life sentences.
Here’s a third notion: what if you had to choose just one of these drugs? And what if taking one would instantly cancel out any effect you might get from the other? I imagine most of us, myself included, would take the one that makes life feel longer. Which means that a lonely life is still better than no life at all. (73-74)

Excerpt #63:
We drove to the station in Rainer’s car, with me up front, Klaus in the back, silent and grimacing out the window. There were clouds of pigeons, flocks of Japanese tourist, and masonry so ornate and delicate that it seemed to be dreaming. (227)

Eleanor Rigby, Douglas Coupland

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It’s like coming back home.

February 25, 2010

I hadn’t read a book by Jodi Picoult for two years until I came across this one. Before college started I read about eight pages of it in Borders and wished I could buy it but sadly it was $25 and hardcover. And I wouldn’t get to it for months. However, it reappeared many times in my life. In other bookstores, and then: in the library. I got it on a whim and didn’t think I’d finish it but with Jodi’s books, you get controlled by the plot and characters and all you want to do is know more. I feel so comfortable when I read Jodi’s books, just knowing that with every page turn I’m going to find out more and more. Next I think will be Picture Perfect.

Excerpt #53: Charlotte, mother.
Dont get me wrong; I am not complaining. Other people look at me and think: That poor woman; she has a child with a disability. But all I see when I look at you is the girl who had memorized all the words to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” by the time she was three, the girl who crawls into bed with me whenever there’s a thunderstorm–not because you’re afraid but because I am, the girl whose laugh has always vibrated inside my own body like a tuning fork. I would never have wished for an able-bodied child, because that child would have been someone who wasn’t you.

Excerpt #54: Marin, lawyer.
Being adopted felt like reading a book that had the first chapter ripped out. You might be enjoying the plot and the characters, but you’d probably also like to read that first line, too. However, when you took the book back to the store to say that the first chapter was missing, they told you they couldn’t sell you a replacement copy that was intact. What if you read that first chapter and realized you hated the book, and posted a nasty review on Amazon? What if you hurt the author’s feelings? Better just to stick with your partial copy and enjoy the rest of the story. (52)

Excerpt #55: Marin asking her adoptive mother about her birth mother.
“She got rid of me over thirty years ago. What if I barge into her life and she doesn’t want to see me?”
There was a soft sigh on the other end of the phone. It was, I realized, the sound I associated most with growing up. I’d heard it running into my mother’s arms when a kid had pushed me off the swing at the playground. I’d heard it during an embrace before my newly minted prom date and I drove off to the dance; I’d hard it when she stood at the threshold of my college dorm, trying not to cry as she left me on my own for the first time. In that sound was my whole childhood.
“Marin,” my mother said simply, “who wouldn’t want you?” (130)

Excerpt #56: Sean, father.
Just then, the wind whipped through the open window of the truck, wrinkling the wrappers of the baked goods and reminding me why I’d come back ehre tonight. Stacked in a wheelbarrow were the cookies and cakes and pastries that you and Amelia and Charlotte had been baking for the past few days.
I’d loaded them all – easily thirty wrapped packets, each one tagged with a green string and a construction paper heart – into my truck. You’d cut those out yourself; I could tell. Sweets from Syllabub, they read. I’d imagined your mother’s hand sstroking pastry dough, the look on your face as your carefully cracked an egg, Amelia frustrating her way through an apron’s knot. I came here a couple times a week. I’d eat the first three or four; the rest I’d leave on the steps at the nearest homeless shelter.
I reached into my wallet and took out all my money, the cashed sum of the extra shifts I’d taken on at work to keep form having to go home. This I stuffed, bill by bill, into the shoe box, payment in kind for Charlotte. Before I could stop myself, I tore the paper heart off one packet of cookies. With a pencil, I wrote a customer’s message across the blank back: I love them.
Tomorrow, you’d read it. All three of you would be giddy, would assume the anonymous writer had been talking about the food, and not the bakers. (234)

Excerpt #57: Amelia, sister, telling Adam, a boy with Osteogensis Imperfecta that she lied to him about having OI.
“I’m a horrible person,” I admitted. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry I’m not the person you wanted me to be.”
Adam stared at me soberly. “No, you’re not. You’re better. You’re healthy. WHo wouldn’t want that for someone you really, really like?”
And then, suddenly, his mouth was touching mine, and his tongue was touching mine, and even though I’d never done this and had only read about it in Seventeen, it wasn’t wet or gross or confusing. Somehow, I knew which way to turn and when to open and close my lips and how to breathe. His hands splayed on my shoulder blades, on the spot you’d once broken, on the place where I’d have wings if I had been born an angel.” (290)

Excerpt #58: Amelia.
People always want to know what it feels like, so I’ll tell you: there’s a sting when you first slice, and then your heart speeds up when you see the blood, because you know you’ve done something you shouldn’t have, and yet you’ve gotten away with it. Then you sort of go into a trance, because it’s truly dazzling – that bright red line, like ah highway route on a map that you want to follow to see where it leads. And – God – the sweet release, that’s the best way I can describe it, kind of like a balloon that’s tied to a little kid’s hand, which somehow breaks free and floats into the sky. You just know that balloon is thinking, Ha, I don’t belong to you after all; and at the same time, Do they have any idea how beautiful the view is from up here? And then the balloon remembers, after the fact, that it has a wicked fear of heights. (372)

Excerpt #59, just a little section for one or two liners that I noted. The little things. Sean during his separation with Charlotte.
“That night I drove to Massachusetts. I didn’t have any destination in mind, but I pulled off at random exits and swung through neighborhoods that were buttoned up tight for the night.” (233)

Charlotte missing Sean.
“Somewhere, in the deep creases of my mind – the folds where hope gets caught – I believed that whatever was wrong between Sean and me was reparable.” (272)

Sean finding evidence that Amelia is bulimic.
“They came by the fistfuls: torn candy wrappers, bread loaf wrappers, empty packages of cookies and crackers. They fluttered over my feet like plastic butterflies.” (424)

In short: read it!

Handle With Care, Jodi Picoult