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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Burton (and Luna) Invite You To Visit Wonderland

Well, hello there! It has been such a dreadful long time since I've last seen some of you. As I am sure you are quite all aware, it is so very easy to get lost in Wonderland. My sincerest apologies for such a long absence. Oh my! And there are several of you here whom I have never made your acquaintance. Let us be polite now. Introductions all around. My name is Luna Spinner. My sister, Raven, and I have been lost deep in the Forest of Forgetfulness for some time now, which has made us quite mad. But do not fear, we are all mad here!

As some of you know, Raven and I used to watch over a portal into Wonderland a long time ago. The passageway still exists, if you're clever enough to search for it, peering through your Looking Glass. (I am told that you refer to them as "computer screens" in your modern parlance.) However, I must warn you, it is quite filled with cobwebs and dusty memories now. Raven and I see that the World Wide Web has moved on quite a bit since we first opened our passageway, and your modern modes of transport into Wonderland are so mind-boggling and beautiful, compared to our humble little door. It does seem that our writing spaces are the only things left from our Wonderland that seem to be advancing along with you. Raven has her
writing desk, and I have my little storm in a teacup.

The reason for my writing to you, is that I met a very strange and quite gloomy gentleman recently: Mister Timothy Burton. He makes pictures that can move! It is the greatest type of magic I've ever seen. Not only that, but the dear fellow has found his own portal into Wonderland and has made one of these "moving pictures" about it. As you know, entrances into Wonderland are few and far between, so I made great haste to write and tell you all about it. The portal opens on the
5th of March, 2010, which does seem like such an awful long time to wait. I thought I would share a few snapshots with you, that he so graciously revealed to me.

My my, but has Miss Alice all but grown up! And our dear friend, the Mad Hatter, seems to have grown quite strange in countenance, since last we saw him. But Wonderland is still as beautiful and mysterious and dark as it ever was. With a guide like Mister Burton, I am sure he will reveal to us beauties never yet to be seen.

I will close this missive now, as I must attend to my
spinning. If you would be so kind, please send me a polite "comment" and let me know what you think of these stunning pictures.
Most sincerely yours,
Luna Spinner

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Great Purge of 2009 (Part 3)

I've been occupied over the last several weekends with a huge de-cluttering, de-junking, and organizational project, which I like to refer to as The Great Purge of Ought Nine. In my last post, I discussed the de-cluttering of my kitchen. Today I’ll talk about how I conquered my living room, family room and linen closet.

I will confess it right now. My husband and I are media junkies. We voraciously consume books, DVDs, and CDs. As a result, we are always having storage issues and challenges. We’re pretty good about semi-regularly sifting through our books and taking them to the used book store (Thrifty Joe’s or Bookman’s) for a little extra cash. But if it’s a favorite book, we will keep it and read it again. We’ve also been known to mark up our books for future reference. So, storage was the main problem in both these rooms.

My husband tackled the bookshelves. He reorganized them by genre and then alphabetically. This took more than one weekend for him to accomplish, and frankly, we're still not done, because we have bookcases in every room of the house. While he worked on the books, I attacked the DVD collection. I sorted out the duplicate DVDs (we’d switched to the Blu-ray format and had movies in both formats), pulled out the DVDs we didn’t like which had been gifted to us, and I tried to pare it down to only the movies that we watch repeatedly. This could still use some more refining, but at least for now, they are in alphabetical order and put away.

Not only do we enjoy our media, but we’re also collectors by nature. On the shelves in front of the books were all our knickknacks. I knew they were tacky and that they were less “interior design” and more “junky clutter”, but I liked them. (Does this mean I have white trash, modern mobile home taste? I hope not.) We have a lot of interests, and when people find out what you’re interested in or what you like, that doesn’t help the matter either, because then you get gifted with a bunch of stuff. This was a difficult thing to de-clutter. I ended up coming to a compromise, like I did with the magnets on the fridge, because even if these items aren’t 100% aesthetically pleasing to the average eye, they make us happy.

So instead of getting rid of everything, I tried to pare them down as much as I could, and tried to keep only the items that really were little works of art. I would hold an item in my hand, trying so hard to put it in the “Sell” box. Then I’d hold it up to the husband and ask, “Sell or keep?” He’d think for a minute, then say, “Sell.” Then I’d hold onto it for a few minutes longer and finally, reluctantly, put it in the “Sell” box. Part of the problem was the memories I associated with the items, or the people I associated them with. I had to recognize that memories and friends are still there and don’t change, just because I threw out the physical item connected to them. I also tried to keep reminding myself that it would be less stuff to dust.

Some of these decorative items were easier to part with than others. We’d been given some wall art, decorative plaques, and other things over the years for our wedding and such that were very sweet sentiments, but were never really my style. I only displayed them because of my feelings for the people who gave them to me, not because I particularly liked the item. Most of these things, strangely enough, were pink or had pink accents on them. The last time I was into the color pink, I was probably 8 years old. It’s just not my thing anymore. Not only that, but pink is not even in the color scheme in either one of these rooms.

These two rooms were fairly easy to de-clutter, especially after the huge task of de-cluttering the kitchen. The last area left, before we started on the back end of the house, was the linen closet in the hall. Since it's just the two of us, we don't have a ton of bed linens or towels to store, but this area had become a catch-all for all kinds of other things. We love to play board games, so all our games had found their way to this closet. I also like candles, so all my decorative candle holders, candle refills, etc. were there as well. It really just needed some tiding up and some better organization. I moved the games from the very bottom shelf (where you had to get on your knees to search for a game) to a middle shelf, where it would be easier to access them. I collected up all the little games, dice, packs of cards, etc. and put them in a plastic bin/box so they wouldn't get lost. I removed the games we didn't like and put them in the "Sell" box. I left the candles on the same shelf, but organized them better. Some candleholders that I never use made their way to the "Sell" box as well. (This is going to be one ginormous yard sale by the time I get done!) Lastly, I put seasonal bed linens, such as heavy winter blankets (which we hardly ever use in Arizona) up onto a higher shelf, and moved the every day linens to a more central, middle shelf

Thank heavens our community yard sale is in October. I think this project is going to take me all the way up to that date! If only I didn't have to work during the day, I could spend more time on it. Up next… the guest bedroom and our two bathrooms. Everything in its place, and a place for everything!

P.S. An update, in regards to my kitchen... Since the de-cluttering, I'd hoped the prepping and logistics of cooking would be easier, and would propel me to continue towards my goal of cooking at home, and making more healthy meals. I'm pleased to report that we're almost on WEEK THREE of eating at home (almost every night)! Who knew that de-cluttering could be so life changing?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book Bite - Overseas Adventures

It’s said that there are only two ways to hone your writing craft and become a better writer: read a lot and write a lot. Not only should you read great works of fiction, but you should read pedestrian or even bad works as well, so that you learn what not to do. In the fast-paced world that we live in, even with the best of time management skills, I never seemed to have the time to work on my writing or to spend time reading. This was a serious crime, considering my love and passion for both things. How did I let this happen? I asked myself.

The good news is I’m working on ways to improve upon this, and make time in my life for those things which I truly love and give me pleasure. I’ve dedicated my lunch hour at work to reading time. I’ve also tried to dedicate more time in the evenings and weekends for my writing. However, one of the great developments in the last year has been the book club that I was invited to join. This has forced me to read at least one book a month, and it has also forced me to read outside of my favorite genres and explore other styles of writing that I might not have otherwise been exposed to. The following is a brief review of several of the books I have read over the last few months, all of which by coincidence happen to take place overseas.
The historical fiction, Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, follows the story of a young Hawaiian girl who develops leprosy and is exiled to the leper colony on the island of Moloka’i. Set in the 1800s, it is a heartbreaking look at the misunderstandings of leprosy, and the shame and ostracizing of those who contracted it, as well as their families.

This book was very depressing, with one terrible turn of events after another. The subject matter was so sad; it was hard to force myself to continue reading it. However, the main character was plucky and engaging and I kept reading because I wanted to know what happened to her. This book does have a victorious, redemptive end, but after slogging through so much misery, it seemed like too little too late. But maybe that was the point? For these misunderstood and mistreated people a cure and acceptance came too late.

At times the writing was effectively sensitive while at other times it was very melodramatic. Although the descriptions of Hawaii and the settings are vivid, I think the author tried to do too much in one book: recount medical history of leprosy, discuss the fall of Hawaiian culture as it is taken over by the U.S.A., tell the personal story of this young girl, as well as discuss the pagan spirituality of the Hawaiian natives versus the new influx of Catholicism and Christianity. All of this was written with an often detached, non-committal point of view, which I suppose is a common problem with historical fiction, it reads more like a survey of history than a compelling story with heart.

Another work that felt like a real-life story thinly veiled by fiction was Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski. The novel is told mostly in backstories, by the narrator, a journalist stationed in Thailand. He begins to investigate the suicide of an American anthropologist in a Thai jail, where she was serving 50 years for murder, and as he delves into her story, he becomes more obsessed. He goes into great detail about the native Thai tribe that the anthropologist lived with and their culture, religion, rituals etc.

Then, mid-story, Berlinski takes a huge detour and spends quite a bit of the book describing a missionary family’s journey to Thailand and their work there trying to convert the natives. He describes in detail several generations of this family. I figured all of this would intertwine and become important to the main plot line with the anthropologist, but it turns out it really has nothing to do with it, which was frustrating and felt like a waste of time. Not only that, but this detour slowed down the pace of the murder-mystery that is at the heart of the book.

Fieldwork has the same problem as Moloka’i, in that the author describes both sides of a culture war, but refuses to choose a side. I don’t need to be told what to think about any given topic, but when a fiction author is non-committal about who is in the wrong and who is in the right, it leaves for lukewarm feelings about the whole story in general.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell takes place in England in the present day. In the modern day, we meet Iris, a single woman who runs an antique clothing store. She is contacted by a mental institution. They notify her, the next of kin, that her great aunt, Esme Lennox, is being discharged into her care. The only problem is Iris never knew the great aunt even existed. Her grandmother always spoke of being an only child. The rest of the book bounces back and forth between the present day and the 1920s when Esme was a child. We see how Esme affects Iris’ life and challenges her, in the present day, while we also see into the past, how Esme’s free spirit didn’t sit well in the repressed British culture she grew up in. In contrast to her wild spirit, we also meet Esme’s sister Kitty, and are shown the events that unfolded that lead to Esme being committed at the age of 16.

I really enjoyed the flashbacks to Esme as a child. The author’s depictions of that time period are very vivid and Esme is an interesting character. She was a creative, imaginative girl who had the misfortune of being involved in some tragic events. It was heartbreaking to see how mental trauma was dealt with, especially in women, during that time period. It was obvious the author had done her homework in regards to this history.

The book was a quick read, and in some ways a real page turner, as the author slowly reveals the events that lead up to how Esme “disappeared” from her family. However, the ending was cliché, predictable and unsatisfying. Additionally, I had a hard time connecting to Iris as one of the main characters. I found her unlikeable for several reasons, and felt that some of the side plotline with her and her step-brother to be unbelievable and forced. It was an interesting gothic family drama, but I didn’t appreciate the conclusions the author came to, after everything the characters had been through.

Regardless of how successful or unsuccessful the book club picks have been, they’ve all been useful in helping me to grow as a person and a writer. If you end up reading any of these three books, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought. Or, if you’ve read a book that wasn’t very good, but taught you a lot about “what not to do” when writing, I invite you to share your thoughts as well.