November 16, 2008

COST by Roxana Robinson

Originally uploaded by soyrosa
I have a confession to make. I read novels. I prefer to find ones that have relevance and redeeming social value, but I've been known to read trashy novels also. I don't read them for educational purposes, or even for self-improvement. I read them because I need to relax my brain. I read them because I can't afford to take a vacation, or even get out of the house, every time I need to. I reads them because I have to, because I get very grumpy if I don't.

Those of you who know me, know that I can be a little compulsive, a bit of a workaholic, and most definitely an extreme multi-tasker. So it is only natural and fitting that I multi-task my novel reading and let you all in on the fun. How about I give a little review of what I'm reading every now and then?

Most recently I read COST, a novel by Roxana Robinson. For me, the best thing about reading a novel is the sense of visiting another place, getting to know about other people's lives. But for the effect to really work, the characters in the novel have to be involved in situations that seem real to me. And it's much easier to become immersed if the concerns that run through their heads mirror the concerns of the people I see around me. In COST, the concerns are sometimes almost too close to home, or rather too close to that existential angst we all face.

We are treated to the perspectives of several family members during a family crisis around drug abuse. This would be a cliched topic except for the clear voice of self questioning that runs through the entire book. Each character metes out their own doses of self justification, come into contact with the reality created by the behavior they've been justifying, and then come to terms with it in various ways with different levels of success, depending upon their age and level of development. Husbands come to see the ways they haven't seen their wives in long years of marriage. Mothers try to untangle the webs of cause and effect between themselves and their children and even with their own parents. Brothers look to each other and come to see the adult that came from the child and in turn step into their own adulthood, or don't and fall into the abyss of drug addiction and personality loss.

Each character is believable. They share with us their interior stories about mistakes, about willful bad behavior and attempts and failures and good intentions, They share them in the sense that the author makes us privy to them, and in the sense that we know these stories and justifications from within ourselves. Seeing all these characters, all beside one another trying out their differing points of view of this same situation, brought the fact of my point of view into more clear focus. When immersing myself, serially, in the flow of these different perspectives I couldn't help but view my own perspective as just that, another perspective. Central to me, yes, just as the characters in this novel quite obviously experience their perspectives as central, but also existing beside the perspectives of the others in my life. Some novels buoy you up. This one puts you right down in the crowd, one of many and that's ok.

And, on a more somber note, each character quietly and with varying degrees of regret, come to realize the cost they paid in their lives for their personalities, for being committed to who they were. Ms. Robinson occupies the self of each character with such understanding that each cost seems to exist in a different dimension, in a completely different personal landscape with a different personal language. At the same time, it's the intersection of these personal dimensions in the real intimacy of their lives that creates all the action and interplay of the novel. This interplay and reckoning and regret is written in a sympathetic and loving manner. These characters do not come to hate themselves, but struggle to accept what they have, as we all do to some degree or another. In that regard, the novel is rewarding because it reinforces the value of our everyday emotional struggle to live in intimacy with those we love. And what is more valorous and worthwhile than that?

While I became attached to the people who lived in this world and understood their difficulties, it was not my world. The protagonist is a college professor struggling for tenure. The setting is a summer house, albeit a run-down summer house, but a summer house nonetheless. Her divorced husband lives in New York. They both struggle to pay thousands a month to send a son to a good rehab for an indeterminate stay. Their difficulties are not weighed upon by immediate abrupt financial hardship, as mine would be in the same situation. I'm used to that in novels. I look for my own working class background to be reflected but don't often find it. It gets a bit tiresome but I put up with it, even cheerfully, if the characters are as well written as these.

Alright, the book's tone is a bit glib. It move quickly. The sentences are not complex. But still, I can't remember reading such a good assessment of what it's like to try to be a daughter, a husband, a mother. Sons try to find their place. Brothers look at each other as brothers do and we get to see that. These people try to figure out what I've been trying to figure out, how do I be myself and still be these other roles, still have all this meaning for the loved ones in my life? It helps to see what they think as they go along, and it was enjoyable. And the little smattering of progressive politics doesn't hurt either.

Thumbs up for this book.

COSTS by Roxana Robinson is available at the Beaver Library (as soon as I return it).
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November 14, 2008


Obviously Tina has fallen down on the job here, so I feel compelled to step in. I tried to get her to write this blog herself, but she said something about sleep and the alarm clock so I'll give it a shot. For the record, I can't figure out for the life of me why she gets up so early and runs around the house doing so much stuff. Humans, who can figure them out?

My name is Pierre. Many of you out there know me already. Yes, it's me, the standard poodle that lives at Tina's house. (Shout out to Emma if she's reading this.) I must confess, it does sometimes get kind of boring just lying around the house, so I thought I'd try my hand at blogging. Besides there's finally some national news that interests me.

Generally I'm apolitical. Well, alright, yes, I do occasionally attend the anti-war/peace vigil with my tree-hugging owners. Alright, alright, yes, I also used to wear a "Bite Bush" sign around my neck at the vigil, but that was mostly Tina's idea. I just went along with it to be polite. Well, I did think Bush was an idiot. But generally I'm opposed to such obvious simplistic political sloganism.

Which is why I'm happy to see that finally the media has hit upon an issue that requires both intellectual depth and emotional nuance to fully appreciate. In other words, an issue worthy of my attention.

Yes, I'm talking about the first puppy issue.

Now, before you say I'm biased, consider what President Obama elect is looking for in a dog. I believe he said he needs a hypoallergenic dog? Well, what can I say? Poodle.
And, after all, whatever dog he chooses will have to be capable of holding up under the scrutiny of the press. And look good doing so. We standard poodles are refined and elegant, alert and intelligent. Even those of us that are slightly more excitable exhibit a sophistication and zest for life that's rare in a four-legged mammal. In fact we are so intelligent and savvy that we make the humans we live with feel and behave more intelligently themselves, just from being around us.
I have read that Sasha Obama wants a goldendoodle. That might be a good compromise, given President-elect Obama's stated penchant for mutts. I've heard that labradoodles are quite personable also, though I've never met one.

But why settle for less than the best? I'm sure there are many very nice goldendoodles, but we standard poodles are a breed apart. We are not working dogs. We've been companion dogs for centuries. We are experts at it. Think of us as the professional diplomats of the dog world. We don't often commit faux pas, but when we do we're mortified though we can still pull the situation off with aplomb.
I know the politically correct thing to do would be for the Obama's to bring home a "rescue" dog. But the fact of the matter is, standard poodles aren't abandoned. And what does that say about our personalities? It say that we are adept at insinuating ourselves into the very fabric of human life, not in an intrusive way of course, but in a pleasant, civilized and deeply satisfying way. Our humans soon find their lives unimaginable without us. We bring beauty, charm and a subtle sense of life's richness wherever we go.
Mr Obama, surely a man of your obvious intelligence would benefit by having a standard poodle in his life.
And don't worry about your image. You don't have to do all that frou frou stuff with our hair. Humans just get carried away because we inspire artistic feelings and they sometimes can't resist expressing those feelings with us. I admit it's a little embarrassing at times, but we forgive them because their hearts are in the right place. Just resist those urges and we can look fairly normal, though perhaps not, dare I say, redneck.
I hope you will take this request seriously. I make it with your best interests at heart. Tina worked very hard in your campaign, and so I want to see you do well in your presidency. In helping you, I also feel I am helping her. Tina has been good to me and I want only good things for her. I know she is anxiously awaiting your coming policy decisions. I think it would give her a feeling of confidence if you exhibited wisdom in your dog choice.
Of course this is only my humble opinion. There are many nice dogs out there and I'm sure you'll make a good choice, no matter which way you go with it.
Respectfully yours,
Pierre the poodle
PS The picture heading this entry isn't me. I found it on Openphoto (or something like that). Isn't she beautiful. See what I mean about standard poodles?

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November 5, 2008

YES WE DID, and so did I

I know everyone's happy and all that, but all I have to say today is this:
Never drink champagne from a styrofoam cup
in a Union Hall.

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October 23, 2008

Obama Mama

Alright, I've got 7 minutes left at the internet cafe here and sweat is running down my face in this little airless enclave, so this post will also read like a first draft.

Went over, got my hair braided, all the young guys left me alone once I sat down with Daisy. I ended up having a political discussion with an older guy over there. It was good. I bought a nice carved coconut. Felt silly for being afraid.

Came back to the resort, started mentioning Obama in my conversations with staff people. Eventually figured out to put on my Obama button. My vacation changed. I get smiles everywhere I go. The bartender invented an Obama Mama drink for me, instead of a Bahama Mama (get it?). People are being real and having conversation with me.


Sorry for any typos, times up.

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October 20, 2008


Well, here I am in Jamaica. I'm at an all-inclusive resort. So I'm feeling kind of removed from reality. Although the ocean is just a stone's throw away, most of the activity takes place right in the resort, around the swimming pools, the large cafeteria where people eat and of course around the bars. That feel kind strange, to be right next to the ocean and to pick up a feeling of disregard for it.

Yesterday my sister and I, with a combination of accident and willfulness, wandered over to the little tin-covered huts on the beach at the edge of the resort. We were a little curious and as we walked over, several Jamaicans approached us and beckoned us into their little shops. The security person at the edge of the beach, (and I'm not talking about a big beach, the resort was still easily in sight) asked for our names and room numbers, which we gave him.

It was a little unnerving to be the only people available who had any money to buy anything. We surrounded and guided from hut to hut and given the hard sell on many items. I hadn't taken any money, but my sister bought an anklet. The real reason I went over was to try and find someone to braid my hair, instead of having it done in the resort. A woman who seemed to be in charge gave me a business card. I told her I wanted to come back tomorrow afternoon when it was too hot to be out in the sun. She said ok. A young man persuded me to take a painting I really liked (drummers in the picture, music pictures get me everytime) and pay him tomorrow when I come back.

Well, that meant today. I have to confess that if I hadn't taken the picture I might not have gone back because I felt a little afraid. Another woman had stopped me and asked me to bring food from the resort. So today, I emptied all my ziplock bags, brought some food to my room and filled the ziplock bags. I took a shower so my hair would be wet. My sister, who is tired of traveling and feeling guilty and so just tries to avoid interactions like this (believe me she has given planty of food and money away) said she was going to take a nap. So I sucked it up and headed over.

TO BE CONTINUED (sorry, out of time at the internet cafe)

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October 14, 2008

Battleground State Report, as overheard

Two kids I used to take care of were riding along in the backseat. This is the conversation that passed between them.

Little Boy: "Well, who ya votin for?"

Little Girl: "Oh we're voting for McCain."

Little Boy: "McCain?!!? We're voting for Obama."

Little Girl: "Well, yeah. But it would be better if Sara Palin was President."

Little Boy: "Sara Palin ?!?!!!!!?!!!!!"

A few moments pass. Both kids are thinking their own little thoughts.

Little Boy: "Well Tina's voting for Obama."

Little Girl: "She is? Tina? Really?"

It's nice to be someone's last word. lolololol. Who ever thought I'd be a quotable authority figure?

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October 8, 2008

My Monday Evening

My very good friend (she introduced me to my husband) substitutes for me on Monday afternoons at my daycare. That's the only way I can make and keep doctor's appointments. I often do grocery shopping then. And I almost always have a late lunch with my husband on Monday afternoon.

This Monday was a little different.

I had spent a great deal of Sunday afternoon struggling with the computer, attempting to persuade the machine to allow me to design some tickets for an upcoming event we are planning. My local Progressive Democrats of America chapter will show a movie with a buffet dinner at the local Polish Natl Assoc hall on Nov 1st. The movie will be "Uncounted", a documentary about the voting irregularities in the last 3 presidential election. We will charge $15 per person. Last time we had an event like this, we got 85 people out, so we engaged the PNA, bigger venue, this time. We need at least 100 people to come. 125 would be better.
So we're working like mad. Right now I've been mostly focused on supporting other members of PDA, helping them figure out who to approach, brainstorming about the importance of getting everyone together right now . You see, just about everyone I know is working on the presidential campaign in one way or another. It might be as simple as talking to all their friends and family members. Other are working through the Union movement or with the Obama campaign to do phone banking and door-to-door canvassing. Lots of our people are making new contacts, working with people from their neighborhoods that they didn't know before. Getting as many of these people in one room together, eating and socializing and then watching a movie with relevant info in it, will go a long way toward building a progressive political community.
So, back to Monday afternoon. Although I was able to design the tickets on Microsoft Publisher, I was unable to number them. A friend of mine said he could figure that out. So Randy and I ate a quick lunch and headed over to his house. As we tried to find MS Publisher on his computer, his partner said, "It's a lot easier just to buy a numbering machine. We go through this everytime we try to make tickets." Well, we struggled and struggled. And we managed to get enough tickets numbered to take around that night, but the process involved putting each sheet of card stock in the printer individually. Then sometimes the printer would go reeeeal sloooow. And sometimes the software would skip a number for no discernible reason. So, a shout out to my friend's partner, she was right. The next day we numbered the rest of the tickets by hand.
That whole process took an agonizing couple of hours, agonizing for me because I'm in hyper drive and have list upon to-do list constantly scrolling through my brain right now. It was nice to see my friend though, and even nicer to know I have someone to back me up in my technological struggles, as well as my political struggles, haha.
With a small pile of numbered tickets, it was time to deliver them. We gave some tickets to our computer friend and moved on.
First we went to the home of a steelworker I know. He's a great guy. He has several kids, one of them handicapped. He and his wife are all about raising their kids well. I have been to meetings and such with him and his kids, and they are are great too (and not all kids can handle themselves at a meeting). He wasn't home, but just happened to be calling his wife as I knocked on the door. She handed me the phone and he told me how he managed to pass out fliers about our dinner/movie event at his factory gate that morning. He was excited. It was encouraging news. We left some tickets.
Next we went to the home of the president of the local steelworkers retirees organization. He and his wife are very active in our PDA chapter. They are Polish emigres, having come to this country in their teens. (This is the man who sang happy birthday to me in Polish at my birthday party, much to my delight). They are both extremely gracious people. They often host our meetings and feed us too. We sat and had a cup of coffee with them and gave an update of ticket sales. We left tickets with them too.
Then we were off to the home of 2 of our dearest friends. Although they live outside our congressional district and thus outside the range of our PDA chapter, we still have plenty in common politically. This couple regularly attends our weekly Peace Vigil in front of the Beaver County Courthouse. And they are gathering people to attend our dinner/movie. So they needed some tickets. Luckily for us, our friends were just getting ready to eat supper (actually I kinda planned it that way). So we sat down to a cup of herbal tea while we waited for the dumplings to finish cooking. Dinner was beef stew with home-made dumplings, yum yum. Not only were vegetables and potatoes in the stew, but also turnips and rutabagas. I LOVE to eat other folks' cooking.
By then we were pretty tired. We had traveled between 60-70 miles that day delivering tickets. We said goodbye to our friends, talked about when we would see them next and walked down their steep Western Pennsylvania front steps. I was tired but glad for all the good people I had seen. Those people are what keep me working so hard, and also keep me happy to do so.
Viva la revolution (or progressive political movement or friends getting together to make things better or whatever you want to call it)!
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