Archive | Reviews RSS feed for this section

135JournalsAudioReview: Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcast

19 Sep

Feeling puple. April 2017. Alexandra Hanson-Harding.

Got my podcast listening face on. Alexandra Hanson-Harding.

I’m sitting here among my breakfast crumbs, verklempt. I have just finished listening to the Season Two, Episode Five, edition of Revisionist History Podcast, which is entitled, “The Prime Minister and the Prof.” It is about the friendship of Winston Churchill to an odd scientist named Frederick Lindemann which affected the course of World War II in some painful ways. Although I consider myself a history buff and am rarely surprised by “Did you know” history stories, I was stunned by hearing about a brutal famine in Bengal in 1943 and its effects.

If you are familiar with the work of Malcolm Gladwell, you will no doubt know that one of the gifts of his style is his ability to follow the golden thread of his curiosity down some very unexpected byways and draw some very interesting conclusions. At times, this is also his curse, as some of those conclusions can seem, at least to me, rather simplistic. Still, if taken in the proper spirit of skepticism, it is fascinating to go along on the journey of Gladwell’s lightning mind. And I also like to consider his way of thinking as a role model for how I can tackle a wayward question that occurs to me–to pursue it, wherever it goes, and learn whatever I learn on the journey to its answer. He reminds me that it really does take a lifetime to become an educated person, and that there are many different ways to learn.

There are two seasons of ten episodes each of Revisionist History now available on which has a number of other great podcasts, including the The Gist,, Unorthodox,, The Grift,, and more. The husband and I devoured all of Season One in a single gulp, and we’re trying to ration ourselves with season 2. I could give you the titles of what is in Season 1_-Saigon 1965 is one episode. The Big Man Can’t Shoot is another. Food Fight is another. But what you really need to know is: What you assume in the beginning is not where you’ll end up at the end. And you’ll go through a very interesting journey to learn why. It’s a really great way to spend 35 minutes or so, one that you’ll remember long after it’s over. Two thumbs definitely up!

I heard it on NPR. Kind of.

23 Jan
USA! USA! World War II poster of Americans anxiously huddling around a radio shows why we rock. (courtesy of Wikimedia commons).

USA! USA! World War II poster of Americans anxiously huddling around a radio shows why we rock. (courtesy of Wikimedia commons).

Lately I’ve been engaged in a tragically fruitless project of decluttering my insane art room. This has given me the opportunity to listen to National Public Radio All. Day. Long. Listening to NPR is like listening to one’s friends, including the part where they repeat themselves, which, let’s face it, everyone does. Including the part where they repeat themselves, which, let’s face it, everyone does. Oh wait, what did I just do?

I am happy to say that it has increased my knowledge of public events very quickly. In fact, I feel quite brilliant.  And just in case you haven’t had the opportunity of being similarly enriched, I will give you today’s news report as well as I remember it. Ready?

  1. Yemen’s government quit and has now been taken over by thousands or maybe tens of thousands of (Hrathis? Hathis?) who invaded the capital, Sanaa. The (Hrathis? Hathis?) hate America, but they either are part of al Qaeda or they hate al Qaeda, and they hate America, which is why we are pretty sure that we should make them allies. Now the U.S. embassy is working with a skeleton staff, so don’t you worry that nobody is going to answer the phone. We just don’t know if anybody is going to be able to man the drones. The (Hrathis?) are Zaidis? and are either Shias or Shiites, unlike the Iranians who are not Arabs but Persians and are mostly Shiite. Did I clear that up for you?
  1. Saudi Arabia’s king what’s-his-name, the one who once tenderly held George Bush’s hand as they celebrated their bromance in some flowery park, is dead, and his place has been taken by his spring chicken 79-year-old heir Prince Something-or-other. This is going to slow things down because this prince is in bad health—not AS bad as the former king, who had a “typically modest” Muslim funeral today (plaintive cry of “Allu Akbar” in background). New king promises to keep policies of old king, who was known as a reformer, a veryyyyy slowwww reformer. Saudi Arabia will not have a problem with this change because it’s got tons of cash in the bank. However, it may have a problem because now all these Saudis went to college and there aren’t enough good jobs for them. Unrest alert!
  1. Producer or director of some vampire play says that play is based on mythic themes like bullying. He says they only use blood three times in play because with blood, “Less is more. “ Play was first shown in Dundee. People who lived outside Dundee paid for poor people in Dundee to go to play. Rich people got stubs, poor people got experience of lifetime watching Vampire /mythical bully themed play. Also, it’s tragic that some people grow old and others (such as vampires) don’t.

4. Brain scientists dished about two brain study initiatives, one in U.S., one in Europe. The one in U.S. is stupid, the one in Europe is even more stupid. Not enough consultation with psychologists. Better to study mouse brains. FMRI machines are gimmicky, ineffective. “It’s like a magnifying glass when you need a microscope.”

5. After NY state politician Sheldon Silver is arrested for corruption charges, some guy asks about the “Three Men in a Room” system for negotiating. “Why three men? Why not a woman? What size of room is it anyway, that only fits three men?” 135journals editorial: Sheldon Silver is SO guilty.

6. Blah blah New England Patriots dumpty dum underinflated football doodly doo I have no idea why I should care about this.

Okay, considered yourselves schooled.

Writing prompt: What did you learn from the news today?

135 Journals Book Review: The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

30 Dec
Vista overlooking the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts from the New York State border at sunset

Vista overlooking the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts from the New York State border at sunset (via Wikimedia Commons).

What makes a book work? Plot twists? Action? Unsolved mysteries? Yes. . . but sometimes a book has a strange power that goes far beyond a heart-pounding plot. In The Red Garden, much of what made it irresistible has to do not so much with a dramatic subject but with the author’s masterful voice. This beautiful book is about the life of a western Massachusetts town called Blackwell, from its beginnings in the 1690s until modern times. It is told in a series of interlocking stories that are about characters in various generations from that founding time forward. In each story, there are connections to be made to previous generations, giving the reader a feeling of the cyclical nature of life.

I enjoyed hunting for the connections, and for the ways that history touched on the characters who were the subjects of the stories. But to me, that was not the best part of the book. What really worked for me is the masterful skill of Alice Hoffman’s writing. The writing was deceptively simple. It made the reader forget the complexity of creating multiple sets of characters and their connections to each other. It made the reader forget that although these stories were all set in the same place, each protagonist quickly became individual and alive, not just props in a larger plotline. The book has a touch of magic realism–for example, in the curious nature of one of the founder’s relationship with a bear–but because of Hoffman’s beautiful storytelling voice, those moments of mystery seem as real and possible as any others. To me, the book was entire in itself, enjoyable on its own considerable merits. Yet it also reminded me that it is possible to craft a book about something as simple as a little town in a forgotten part of the world and convey the idea that no town and no person is ordinary—that we are all full of mysteries and contradictions and possibilities.

Writing Prompt: Is there an author whose voice you particular love? Who is it and what do you love about his or her voice?

135 Journals Art Corner. Damien Hirst: The Emperor Has Spots

29 Oct
Cartoon about Damien Hirst's spots

Here, I provide incisive art history analysis on Damien Hirst.

Because I am currently obsessed with art and I had time to kill, the other day I checked out some galleries in SoHo. There was one with some very beautiful nature photographs and sculptures of demon-headed naked men. That was kind of awesome—not sure I’d want to have a demon-headed naked man in my dining room, say, but as demon-headed naked men go, this was definitely top notch. Actually, Mr. Me and I discussed the demon headed men and thought it was too bad our kids were grown up because it would be really fun to put a demon-headed man next to the bathroom and only have a nightlight next to it to amuse ourselves with their middle-of-the-night screams. But then we realized the joke would be on us because they’d still be in diapers. In their 20s.

Then I went to another gallery had all pop art made by two Brooklynites using their “street sensibility” to art. “Taking it to a new level,” the gallery assistant said enthusiastically of the graffitoed pieces of rough wood and stolen(?) street signs and pieces of chain link fences.

But the art really made me scratch my head and say “What the Hell” was the ouvre of Damien Hirst. This apparently very famous and serious artist seems to have commandeered what was once known as a circle and painted a series of pictures of spots. The spots are in various bright colors. Some paintings have one spot, some have nine (I think) or twelve. There was one painting in this series that was offered for the low, low price of $96,000. If you don’t have that kind of cash lying around, there were also two paintings of four dots each for a much more reasonable price. One of them was $3,500. The other was $3,850. I wondered what that extra $350 was about. Was one of the dots more magical than the one in the other painting? They all had names like Biphenol and Arginosuccinic Acid. Maybe that made them worth the price. He also had some drawings for sale that looked as if they were done by a six year old with a spirograph.

Now, dear reader, I am sure that some of you think that $96,000 for  spots on canvas is a steal. And, as I consulted my good friend, the internet, later, I found out it was. The price of Damien Hirst’s artwork has been declining in recent years. (see How could I have forgotten that Damien Hirst is famous for, among other things, his dissected-sheep-in-formaldehyde series? Naturally, the artist has a fortune estimated at 215 million pounds, which is like, what 350-400 million pounds in American? (I could check it if I could bear to face the reality). But fret not–some say the value of his work will return. As the Independent’s article said, “Hirst’s retrospective at Tate Modern last year, featuring a rotting cow’s head and the Bristol-born artist’s £50 million diamond-encrusted human skull, attracted 463,000 visitors, confirming that public interest in his work remains high.”

Honestly, I often like modern and abstract art. But it’s hard for me to keep a straight face ( as the workers in the gallery did, to their credit) when I’m looking at paintings of freaking symmetrical spots. I will say I looked him up on the Internets (check out and some of his stuff is more interesting than the Spots, although other things seem kind of nonsensical as well. But I do seem to remember a story about an emperor who had no clothes. There’s definitely canvas there. There’s definitely real paint. But are paintings of regular old dinner-plate sized spots really art? I sure as hell hope so. Because I, too, can paint circles. And I could give any of you at least a 50 percent discount on the 96,000 buck painting.

Oh, and I figured out one reason this guy is such a genius. I thought about the one-spot paintings. If you were so inclined to buy one, which one would you buy? Two seemingly identical items, except in different colors. If you bought the less expensive one, wouldn’t you feel subtly ripped off somehow, as if you weren’t getting the best quality spot? And if you bought the more expensive one, wouldn’t you feel a little bit ashamed of yourself for getting a worse deal? Would people know the difference? And if they did, what would it say about you?

Writing Prompt: Imagine the most crazy idea you can for a piece of “conceptual” modern art.

135 Journals Theater Review: India Ink by Tom Stoppard

14 Sep

Krishna and Radha, together at last. Painting from the Brooklyn Museum (via Wikimedia Commons).

35 Journals Theater Review: India Ink by Tom Stoppard


Last night the Mr. and I continued what is becoming the preview of “See-a-play-for-his-birthday” month. And by preview I mean, this is not even his birthday month, and his birthday is at the end of THAT. A few weeks ago we saw a blah play whose name I cannot even remember, but last night’s production of India Ink at the Roundabout Theater in New York, New York, was indeed a gem, as are, in my opinion, all of Tom Stoppard’s plays. The first play I ever saw of his was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. My English teacher took a few of the biggest nerds (i.e; me and my best friends) to see a production of this amazing play, which combines Dadaism and Shakespeare to amazing effect. Thank you, Mr. Denver! That is just one of the ways that Mr. Paul Denver changed my life. But I will write more about that at a later time. The other plays I have seen by Tom Stoppard have been equally thought-provoking, not to mention incredibly well-researched. I have come away from them with much to think about, even when I found them at times, shall we say, discursive and undramatic in parts. Stoppard has enough confidence in his audience to 1. Assume that they are reasonably well-educated; 2. Give them enough information so that if they missed something, there has been enough discussion of the major issues so that by the time the person has left the play, he and she will know where to start digging for more; and 3. He actually does tell interesting stories in his plays.

India Ink is a story set in two different times: in 1930 when a glamorous poet named Flora Crewe comes to India “for her health”—despite the fact that India at that time and no doubt today were infamous to putting an end to one quickly. She rents a small villa and meets an artist named Nirad Das who wants to paint a portrait of the poet (as indeed, Modigliani had—NUDE!!!). Simultaneously, and overlappingly (if such is a word) it is also set in the 1980s, when a biographer named Eldon Pike is overcome with excitement as he reads the correspondence of and interviews Flora’s sister, Eleanor Swan. Soon, Eldon is ready for the fainting couch because it is rumored that there is a painting of Eleanor Swan by an Indian painter, once again, NUDE. Not nude as in “Damn, I don’t know what to wear.” Nude as in an allusion to the Hindi god Krishna’s married lover Radha, the most beautiful of the cowmaidens (Gopis, I think?) who would cluster around him. Radha waited naked in a house waiting for love. Basically, if Flora had been painted naked by an Indian artist at that time, it would be an even more scandalous breach of the times’ mores. Not that Flora would have cared. As her sister archly noted, “Flora used men like batteries. If one wore out, she’d plug in another one for energy.”

Much of the play is devoted to the mystery of seeing if the modern day Eldon and his Indian colleagues—and Nirad Das’s son—will find out the true story of this rumor and who the artist is if it exists. But along the way, one is exposed to a slice of history as rich as the Battenberg cakes and “sponge” that Mrs. Swan stuffs her guests with. It grapples with the coexisting cooperation unrest between Hindus and Muslims that existed at that time, Gandhi’s salt march, the fact that more and more Indians were being invited to join the government, but not the clubs, the ways that the English considered that their great contribution was making India “governable” (although it points to ways that it did not—for example, there were parts of India, notably Rajasthan, that were controlled by princely states rather than the British themselves–) and the idea that what ruined the British/Indian system was when the Suez Canal opened and “Memsahibs”—British ladies—could join their husbands, so the husbands were no longer forced to deal with the local population for their, um, family needs. One fairly sympathetic British character is amazed that the Indians don’t rise up and slaughter the English. The intensely Anglophilic nature of certain aspects of Indian culture is mentioned repeatedly, with affection, bemusement, and dismay. If one knew nothing about India, one would absorb a lot quite painlessly, following the story of the free-spirited Flora. But it is absolute catnip for those who find India, its art, history, theology, and intensely atmospheric way of being itself (which means being a million different things as well as being one things—somewhat like the Hindu gods) endlessly intriguing. As my husband teaches Asian literature and I have not only edited several thick books on India but have had the good fortune to have a number of Indian friends, this was like a parade of hits. We even have a beautiful painting of Radha being courted by Krishna in a clearing in our living room.

One thing that I found interesting, frustrating, fair, brave, and/or annoying (can’t decide) was Stoppard’s choice to write this story—his take on India, basically—from the perspective of /or a story about a white woman. Naturally, it harkens back to (and even refers to) Forster’s A Passage to India (at least in part). It was an interesting choice to write from an English woman’s perspective rather than an Indian one. But then again, in this modern era, when there are so many famous and talented Indian writers who can tell their own stories, it seems less bothersome to let Stoppard choose the story that calls to him. Especially because, as the husband says, I wish I could have read the script over—it was so rich, and it didn’t have that “forced” quality many plays have—four people are waiting in the room waiting to find out who the murderer is or whatever.”

So, will the flutey, flirty, frail Flora be, um, united in a very special relationship with India? As I think I said at the end of every book report I wrote, “You’ll just have to wait and see for yourself.”
In the meantime, four thumbs up from the two of us!

Writing Prompt: When you think of India, what images, tastes, bits of history, and more come to mind?

What’s the Deal With Mason Jars?

24 Aug
canning jars, mason jars, national archives and records administration, crafts,

Mrs. Fidel Romero proudly exhibits her canned food, but her neighbor only feigns interest, as she would rather turn Mason Jars into sets of homemade gluten-free hand soap dispensors. And anyway, god, why does Mrs. Fidel Romero ALLLLWays have so show off so much anyway? Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

What is it with Mason Jars? One can hardly troll Pinterest for four or five straight hours these days without realizing that Mason Jars are hotter than the New York Subway system in August in the 1980s when I was forced by Federal Law and the Office Manager to wear panty hose to work (still not bitter). Whether you’re living out there in the country sipping your sweet tea out of an ole Mason jar as you play chess with gramps on the cracker barrels or breezing by the Shibori dyed scarves at an upscale farmer’s market and for some reason feel compelled to buy a hand-needle-felted Mason Jar cover that will keep your drinks icy for hours for $16, Mason jarology is spinning out of control. And by people who spent $16 on a felted Mason jar, that would be me. Yes. It’s right up in the cupboard pining away for my attention. To my shock, I don’t wake up every morning thinking, “I’m going to use that felted Mason jar today and boy are other people going to be jealous of the solidity of my ice cubes when noon rolls around.”

The first step is admitting we have no control over our addictions, right? Dear God of the Mason jar, you know me. You know how many craft ideas I have about Mason jars, right? You know that absolutely none of them have anything to do with the purpose for which they were invented, i.e.; canning vegetables, despite the fact that we have a monstrously large garden? And that there’s only so much crap you can put into one house? Please help me. Because when I hear the word “Mason Jars,” I am no better than any of the other DIYers and craft folk that start looking at empty paper towels and think, “I’ll bet I could make some really classy napkin holders if I . . . “ NO. STOP.

But for those who have somehow escaped the magical lure of Mason Jarology, here are just a few of the things the People are using them for these days:

Blogger Mommypotamus ( 50—50! Ways to repurpose Mason jars (relying on the help of some of her fellow Masonophiles. Some of these ideas include:

  1. solar lanterns
  2. terrariums,
  3. vases of all stripes (twig vase, painted vase, distressed paint vase, chalkpaint vase,
  4. candleholders
  5. hummingbird feeders,
  6. seasonal decorations,
  7. snowglobes, chandeliers
  8. herb gardens
  9. date night jars
  10. leftover holders
  11. homemade bath scrub holders, and more.

Some of these ideas seem kind of clever. Like an all purpose sewing kit with a burlap top that serves as a needle cushion. Others, eh. Ketchup and mustard holders? Don’t ketchup and mustard already come in holders? Like ones that squeeze out just the right amount of mustard on your hot dog? (Or, say I’m going the classy route, I WANT my visitors to see the word “Grey Poupon” for themselves to know they’re getting the quality item. Though what is a Poupon, actually? And why is it gray? Oh to hell with it, it’s French. I mean, it isn’t even mustard right? It’s Moutarde. )

The even bolder (at least in name) blogger Mason Jar Crafts Love advocates baking buttermilk rolls in jars. ( And recommends passing the butter. I certainly did not come up with that one. But the word “butter” always perks me up.

And how about Crafts With Jars (All Jars, All the Time) ( woman is not fooling around. Some ideas she shares are making a Mason jar backsplash, infused water (in Mason jars), jar lid picture magnets, a home-made playdough holder with a toy glued on the top. And WEDDINGS? Fuh-get-about-it. If you cannot think of 15 awesome things to do with Mason Jars in the next 15 minutes for weddings, you aren’t even TRYING ( like wouldn’t it be cute to cover a mason jar with like, doilies, and put the rings in it, and have the 4 year old ringbearer trot up the aisle with a nice glass jar perched precariously in his tiny doll-like hands, and then, if he doesn’t by some chance fall and break it and slash an artery, it would be really funny if the top were GLUED SHUT so that when the groom tried to unscrew it it would be hilarious—okay, I made that one up) .

The Country Chic Cottage, among other things, shares thoughts such as how to make a breast cancer gift in a jar, a Mason jar salad, and then, I saw that she shared how you can make a Mason Jar necklace. Oh now, madame, I thought, You have gone too far. Some madness has darkened the door of the Country Chic Cottage. It is hardly subtle to hang an entire Mason jar around your neck, even in the land of Country Chic, no? Even if it’s been ombred, decoupaged, gilded with glitterglue and ModPodge and filled with beeswax and lavender. So I had to check it out for myself. You can see if it’s possible yourself. Give these ladies some traffic!

I may seem as if I am mocking my sisters in Masonology. However, I must admit in my chaotic art room, I have, ahem, about a dozen Mason jars. And I’ll be damned if they aren’t just about the most helpful things in there. They hold pens, my painting water, various small art supplies that should be kept separate, and they look pretty. So I’ll try to control myself from getting four or five more dozen for the moment. But the Masonesses are definitely onto something, I must admit. Even if I’ll be damned if I start canning one damned thing.

Writing Prompt: Is there anything that obsesses you?


135Journals Book Club: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

11 May






Fukushima accidents overview map. (thank you, WIimedia Commons). Was Nao there?



Could Ruth Ozeki’s compelling A Tale for the Time Being be called a portmanteau book—i.e.; one into which many different things are thrown, as if into an old trunk? It could be, I suppose. It touches on many things—Proust, Japan (both modern Japan and historical Japan), teenage girls, bullying, the Pacific Northwest, the patterns of movement across oceans, including gyres and vortexes, and , Zen Buddhism, Martin Heidegger’s ideas about  Dasein, quantum physics (including Schrodinger’s cat), and more–the Japanese earthquake/tsunami of 2011, global warming, and even a touch of mysticism. But it is saved from being just a book about a lot of different stuff by having a compelling plot and two engaging narrators. One is Ruth, a writer who lives on one of the Canadian islands off the coast of Vancouver island, if I am getting my geography right, with her intellectual and charming husband Oliver. (Note that Ruth Ozeki lives on one of those islands with her charming husband Oliver).


One day, she finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach. It contains several fascinating objects, including a plastic-wrapped book on the beach. It has a cover of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Times, but inside, the book has been “hacked” with blank pages—which are filled with Japanese writing. Ruth, Japanese herself, can read it, but she does so slowly. As she does, she gets to know Nao, the 16-year-old narrator. We first encounter Nao writing in a sleazy French maid café where waitresses feed food directly to the male clientele. She is angry and rebellious, as she has a right to be. She had grown up partly in Sunnyvale, California, where her father worked for a computer company. He’d lost his job and was now unemployed, making attempts at committing suicide. Her mother was trying to calm herself by watching a tank full of jellyfish in an aquarium all day. She herself was caught between worlds—in Japan, students who had lived in America were considered impure and stupid—and so she was treated to a brutal, particularly Japanese form, of bullying called Ijime. The saving grace for her was her 104 year old Buddhist nun grandmother, Jiko, whose Zen Buddhist ideas inspired and interested her.


Meanwhile, Ruth is doing various kinds of detective work to find out what has happened to Nao. She takes some writings in French also found in the lunchbox and finds a burly French-Canadian to translate them. Her husband describes how the book may have reached Canada’s shores from Japan because of certain types of gyres in the ocean current. Strange things are happening on the small island—a special kind of Japanese crow also appears suddenly one day. We learn that Ruth is from New York, but met her husband at a conference in Canada, and that he could not tolerate being confined in the urban atmosphere of New York. It becomes more and more urgent for her to find out where Nao has gone. And particularly, to find out if Nao survived the earthquake and the tens of thousands of deaths it caused. Their cat, Schrödinger,, disappears—this is a kind of in-joke for those interested in quantum physics, because in Erwin Schrödinger’s cat experiment, (or theoretical experiment, thank goodness, although let’s just say in retrospect Germans and poison gas just don’t seem like a tasteful combination) a cat is put in a box with poison gas, and, the cat both lives and doesn’t live, until the moment it is observed. This refers to the smallest particles and the universe, which Werner Heisenberg (I believe) made his famous “Uncertainty Principle” –the inference that we can’t know both the momentum and the position of the tiniest units of the universe at the same time. In fact, the more you know about one, the less you know about the other. In fact, here’s a joke to illustrate the point:

Heisenberg and Schrödinger get pulled over for speeding.

The cop asks Heisenberg “Do you know how fast you were going?”

Heisenberg replies, “No, but we know exactly where we are!”

The officer looks at him confused and says “you were going 108 miles per hour!”

Heisenberg throws his arms up and cries, “Great! Now we’re lost!”

The officer looks over the car and asks Schrödinger if the two men have anything in the trunk.

“A cat,” Schrödinger replies.

The cop opens the trunk and yells “Hey! This cat is dead.”

Schrödinger angrily replies, “Well he is now.”

ANYWAY, we learn more about Nao’s family tree, how her great-uncle was a suicide bomber for Japan during World War II—how he was forced to train for this mission, and what pain it caused for the grandmother. How Jiko teaches her the power of meditation as a “superpower” and it ends up helping her ground herself after a slide into seediness. How she and her father both hit bottom and struggle upwards. The translation of the material reveals the suicide bomber’s final thoughts.


We also learn about how similar Zen ideas about being and not being are to quantum physics. And also, how they have similiarities to German philosopher (and unfortunately, big NAZI) Martin Heidegger’s idea of their being such a thing as a “Dasein” (there-being—i.e; a being who is aware of being a being and who is therefore aware of his or her life taking place in a specific space and time, with complements of objects and other humans that have separate histories of existing and not existing at the same moment the Dasein (say you, as an aware human being) do.


And, we learn about a whole bunch of other things, in a gyre that seems to spin faster and faster, just as the gyre around the Pacific turns with an unusual quickness. Are too many ideas introduced too closely to the end? I think so. But at the same time, the solidity of the characters she has created, especially the character of the scrappy, thoughtful Nao, are strong enough to keep us holding on to the very end. I would highly recommend this highly readable yet quirky book. It is personal and stimulating and gives a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s future while at the same time finding fascinating connections between world events, science, religion, and more.


Writing Prompt: What is a book you’ve read recently that contains a richness of knowledge?

135Journals Book Club: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

2 May


A circus in the 1890s (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).


Erin Morgenstern conjures up a magical world within magical worlds in this inventive but accessible treat of a book. Set, mostly, in the 1880s-1890s, it is about Celia, a girl from New York, and Marco, a boy from London, and the terrible deal that is made by their guardians—that the two will have to use magic to compete with each other until one wins. What this means is a mystery. But this book is full of mysteries. Celia will perform as a brilliant illusionist in a very different kind of circus than the garish spectacles one usually sees. It is designed all in shades of black, white, and gray. It has a magical clock. It appears and disappears with great suddenness. And it is only open at night. Fans of this circus, called reveurs, start to follow it around, and dress in shades of black, white and gray with something red, so they can recognize each other. This strange landscape is richly detailed, and the reader can feel as if she or he herself is walking around eating one of the chocolate mice with licorice tails and feeling about the look and feel of this strange landscape

One of the things I noticed is that there are many story lines, and many characters, and yet, though the book shifted rapidly from one character’s experience to another, I didn’t feel lost. Every individual was quite distinctive. One reason for that is probably that they each had roles to fulfill—from Isobel, the fortune teller, who was in love with Marco, to the young twins Poppet (who got glimpses of the future) and Widget (who got glimpses of the past) , to Celia’s semi-disembodied and highly critical father, who used to slit her fingers to train her to use her mental powers to heal the cuts. For a long time, Celia does not know who her opponent is, but they collaborate on one mysterious tent, taking turns on trying to outdo each other with strange effects, such as a room where patrons walk through snow or a labyrinth that goes in all directions. But as the competition becomes more intense, so do the stakes. The path to discovering why they are on this path and what they should do about it is as labyrinthine as their tent.

One thing I did notice in this book is that the author made no attempt to make the characters sound as if they were living in the 1890s. Their speech and manners were completely modern. Their names are not reflective of the era, either—Tara and Lanie, for instance. I found it slightly annoying that a German character was named Friedrick, when the German name is almost always spelled Friedrich. I was surprised that no editor or copyeditor fixed that. However, that is a very small complaint.


I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Night Circus—normally I hate circuses, with their crowds and spectacles. But the author used her own magic to conjure up a world that was compellingly interesting, and I too felt the power of her ability to be an illusionist in her own right, transporting me to a world that existed only in our shared imaginations.

And, oh, fellow writers, here’s a few interesting facts about the author: She’s also an artist. And she’s been doing National Novel Writing Month since 2003. According to Publisher’s Weekly, ( lthe author said, “I never really planned what I was going to write beforehand and in 2005, when I got extremely bored with my novel-in-progress, I sent all my characters to the circus. For the two subsequent Novembers, I wrote pages upon pages about the circus, and then spent a few years turning it into something book-shaped. It is perhaps both a blessing and a curse that fictional worlds spring into my mind nearly fully formed and it takes quite a while to sift through everything to find the story.” She also has an entertaining website/blog:


Writing Prompt: What is a book that transported you to another world?

10 Tips from One of My Fave Joints: The Rheumatologist’s Waiting Room

25 Mar

cervical spine x-ray

iii Cervical Spine, Beeyotches!
(By Dr Kien caoxuan[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the many fun things about going to my rheumatologist, besides the engaging wall charts of spines and horrible inflammatory diseases, is of course, Magazines. Woohoo! Just so y’alls don’t feel like you’re missing out, here are 10 handy tips—or Life Hacks, if you prefer—I learned at the office, although they say them more nicely than I do and with prettier pictures.

  1. When you’re traveling on a plane, wear silk. It will let you slip around more comfortably than a pair of jeans in a tight seat.
  2. Put your plastic wrap in the freezer and it will theoretically be less sticky when you take it out. Though, presumably, more frozen.
  3. Save Carbs for dinner. Some study from somewhere said so. (Though I just read another story that said save carbs for breakfast . . . and anyway, another that said, “If you’re just eating yogurt and berries for breakfast, you aren’t doing yourself any favors.” . . . and another saying oatmeal! Must eat Oatmeal!)
  4. Look at flowers in the morning. A study from HARVARD says it makes people full of pep all damn day long. (Until your soul is crushed just a little more by life of permanent internships in post-employment America . . . )
  5. Put a bell on your dog, cat, ferret, or Vietnamese pot bellied pig, because people are always tripping over their damned pets. However, don’t get mad if pet has full-blown psychotic episode, as I would if someone slapped equivalent of set of windchimes around my neck.
  6. Before you go to a mall, look at a map of the mall online. However, once you get there, beware of Mall Vortex Syndrome which, map or no map, will prevent you from finding an exit. You will never find one until you pay the magic price of eating a 750 calorie Cinnabon or buying some 75 buck wonderpillow from Hammacher Schlemmer. . [Bonus tip from me: before going to the mall, try to remember the color of your car, and remember to leave a lot of familiar looking crap in the backseat so you can recognize if it’s yours. Others have told me that finding their keys is an effective aid in car retrieval, but since the parking lot is so full of chirping car noises from the hordes of other car searchers pressing their keys, it’s like looking for your pup in a bat cave—yes, a baby bat is called a pup!)
  7. If you don’t want to spend your dough on those high-priced gift bags, you can wrap your presents in plastic wrap. Ice cold plastic wrap. [Question/bonus tip: Not sure why wrapping presents in see-through substance is good idea? Kinda takes away element of suspense, no? Might as well just leave them in the damn Kohl’s bag–whoever gets a present is lucky to get one anyway and you can just say in superior manner, “I love the environment.”]
  8. Cigarettes, as it so happens, are not that good for you. Because, bones.
  9. Just put on your gym clothes. After a while, you will feel so stupid that you are not at the gym, considering you’re wearing those infamous see-through yoga pants and all, that you might EVENTUALLY be inspired to go for a five minute walk.
  10. Flu can spread at least six feet, so stay at least that far away from the filth that is the rest of humanity. (Go Team Misanthrope)


Okay, thank you doctor’s office for the tipspiration! Otherwise, I would have to search long and hard on the internet for Life Tips, because Lord knows, it’s hard to find any there.


Writing Prompt: And what Life Hack would YOU care to share today?






July is Journaling Month #10: Bastille Day Edition

15 Jul


Les Enfants du Paradise. “Garence!!!”

Je suis adoree la Cinema du France. Is that even a sentence in French? Je ne sais pas. I just have to read the subtitles to enjoy the glory that is French cinema.  For Bastille day I thought I would share a few of the many sparkling and brilliant French movies I have had the pleasure of enjoying over the years. So, in honor of France’s Very Special day, July 14, I present 14 of my favorites, and invite you to think of some you’d like to share, too.

  1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Catherine Deneuve and her sister who died young. Bizarre and catchy. (a crazy 60s musical)
  2. Un Chien Andalou (1929) Luis Bunuel. VErrrry weird. Saw it in film class. Never forgot the first scene which involves a razor blade and an eye.
  3. Belle de Jour (1966) (Luis Bunuel), beautiful and bored richy rich housewife finds out that being a part-time whore isn’t as awesome as it sounds.
  4. The 400 Blows (Truffaut)(1959)  Get out your hankies. Realistic and brutal story of a boy’s life. You will want to adopt him.
  5. Day for Night (1973) (Truffaut) Fabulous movie about moviemaking.
  6. Contempt (1963) (Godard) It turns out there are lines you do not cross if you want a happy marriage.
  7. Les Enfants du Paradis (1943) Actually I loathe this movie but I saw it about four times for some reason. It was weird and had like, some bizarre clown in it and this lady everybody wanted named Garence, and I can still hear “Garence! Garence!” in my head in spite of myself. So if I saw it four times you can see it once.
  8. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. (Bunuel) Odd but good.
  9. Last Metro from Paris (Catherine Deneuve is the wife of a Jewish director husband during WWII)
  10. 10. Amelie, my what big eyes you have, Mlle. Tatou. I liked watching her eat a big salade for dinner. It was so esthetic.

11. Diva  (1981) (Jean-Jacques Beineix) A thriller involving a mailman mixed up in a bunch of trouble and a gorgeous black American opera singer. Very 80s.

12. “Jean de Florette” (1986) Gerard Depardieu. Need I say more? Who can resist that schnozz? Playing a hunchback farmer?

13. The Battle of Algiers (1966) Gillo Pontecorvo  Fantastic movie that lays out the case for Algerian independence and shows the struggles and difficulties of making it happen. It’s in black and white but its concerns are very modern.

14. That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) (Bunuel) An old man is in love with a very elusive and mysterious young lady that is played by two young ladies.

Writing Prompt: What are some movies you’d recommend, from La Belle France or anywhere else? Why?