Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood wasn’t on my to-be-read list until last year.  I had heard of it, but had no idea what it was about.  I still didn’t know what it was about when I decided I should read it, but it sold out when Donald Trump was elected president, and that made me curious.

It’s a dystopic novel about a theocracy taking over America.  As a handmaid, Offred isn’t allowed to go out alone, read, or possess anything except her strict uniform and her Pass.  When she does the shopping, another handmaid accompanies her and she passes over vouchers with pictures of food on them.  Once a month, she participates in a ceremony to impregnate her so she can be a surrogate for her Commander and his Wife.  The ceremony was inspired by the story of Jacob and Rachel in Genesis 30, one of many scriptures the regime manipulated for their own purposes.

As she tells the story, Offred shares snippets of her life before: her husband Luke, her lost daughter, her feminist mother, and her friend Moira.  It was a time when she had her own job and family, when she could wear whatever clothes and make-up she wanted.  At first, it seems like a story set long ago, but with every detail it becomes clearer.  This isn’t the past for us, it’s the future.

One of the most powerful things Atwood does in this novel is to subvert the timeline.  By tossing us into the middle, she shows these rules and lifestyles as “normal.”  Only when Offred finally tells us when the change took place do we see how quickly it became so.

The women have little choice in the matter and are constantly told it is better this way.  “Look at how it was before,” they’re told.  “Women being raped and murdered all over the place.  This way protects you.”  Meanwhile, women who were actually raped are told they were to blame for it.

There is some resistance: an underground network and a rebel army.  But most people in Gilead are just trying to survive.  Except the Commanders, whose power allows them to flagrantly break rules with no consequence.

It is easy to read The Handmaid’s Tale thinking this could never happen, but the first step was to designate an entire group of people, legally, as second-class citizens.  And if we aren’t all free, none of us is truly free.  That includes our transgender brothers and sisters.

No one should feel like there is something wrong with them for existing.  Transgender people are not a burden.  And if we live in a country where this can happen, it isn’t truly the land of the free.  Don’t tell me it is when people with the bravery to serve are denied because of who they are.

If you choose to read this book, don’t start with the mindset that this could never happen to us.  Do not read it believing we have it easy because “things could be worse.”  If you read this book, do so with the realization that many women now are forced into abusive relationships or desperate lifestyles because of a power imbalance.  Realize how many people choose the military in an effort to escape poverty whether they feel called to it or not.  And realize how many people were just called a burden and not deserving of the chance to serve by the president of the United States.

Ordinary, as Aunt Lydia says, is what you are used to.  Let’s not let this become ordinary.

If you want to see these posts early (or just support me in eventually making a living as a full-time writer), subscribe to my Patreon.  You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

You can also donate to the Transgender Law Center  if you want to make a difference.

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Introvert Problems

I’ve been working hard this month.  I came back from my beach vacation and dived into both jobs, working three and a half weeks without a single day off.  I was getting a little burned out.

…my candle literally just went out.  Spooky.

I finally took a day off and spent it sleeping.  It helped, but going back to work the next day, I was still feeling unmotivated and a little angry at, well…everyone.

I thought I needed another day, or maybe a few of them, when I didn’t have to talk to a single person.  I am an introvert.  Sometimes I need me-time.

I arrived at the mall Saturday, determined to make it through the full work day and looking forward to the short shift that followed on Sunday.  Most of the day did feel like going through the motions.  At seven, though, a woman came in with her daughter carrying a Disney bag.  I had to ask.  They had gotten two Tsum-tsums (one was Marie) and were planning a trip to the park.

I spent at least a half hour with them, talking about my time working at Disney World and showing them the pink bags we had on sale.  They were extremely sweet and it really was like talking to two old friends.  When they left with their purchase, they were overjoyed with what they got and excited about coming back.  They were my last sale right before I clocked out, and I actually left work feeling less tired than when I’d gotten there.

Since I got out early, I had time to go to Lush after H&M.  The service there is always great, but this time I got to work with Justine, and absolute sweetheart who accidentally cursed in front of me and whose tattoos I found delightful.  We realized we were from the same county and she could relate to the stifled feeling I sometimes get there.  When she noticed my Gryffindor tattoo, we got to compare Gryffindor and Slytherin qualities.  It was a lot of fun and she hugged me three times before I left.

Sometimes I need me-time, but what I’ve really been missing this month are truly personal interactions: spending time with someone and finding out what they value, what they hate, who they actually are.  It’s hard to get that when I’m trying to make a sales goal at Kate or trying to move the line at Amelie’s.  And it’s hard for me in general since I don’t seem to connect well with people, even people I’ve known for years.  (On a related note, how do you turn a work friend into a friend-friend?  I’m asking for a…well, a friend.)  But when those connections come along, they’re worth savoring, however briefly.  And they always make my job more fun.

If you want to see these posts early (or just support me in eventually making a living as a full-time writer), subscribe to my Patreon.  You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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Rise of the Isle of the Lost

If a movie is based on a book, the book will always be better.  It’s just a Rule.  So what about when a book is the prequel to a movie?

I always read the book first because it enables me to enjoy both, but I stay away from novelezations at all costs.  Melissa de la Cruz and Descendants managed to find a middle ground: a prequel novel that gave the movie context.  In that way, The Isle of the Lost prepared readers for what came next.  It gave an insight into the characters and their friendship that added layers to the final production.

The movie was a phenomena (despite its gaps in logic).  It was watched by so many people that the second (coming out Friday) is going to air on every channel the Disney corporation owns.  When I heard they were doing another book in between, Return to the Isle of the LostI wasn’t surprised.  I was even excited to see how our heroes fared being, well, the heroes.  And (if you read my post, you know) I hated it because it lacked the darkness and edge that made them Villain Kids.

Rise of the Isle of the Lost did a better job.  It shows Mal’s dark side and dependence on magic as well as the contrast between her and Evie.  It shows Carlos and his terror at the idea of returning to his abusive mother.  It shows Jay’s struggle between rogue and prince as he learns to channel his energy into a new sport instead of thievery.  Basically, if Return to the Isle of the Lost had never existed, this book would be perfect.

It shows every way the Villain Kids have changed and all the ways they haven’t, which is a fine and difficult line to walk in a sequel.

Knowing there were two books between the movies concerned me at first, at the first book (second total) didn’t help.  Reading the new book, however, eased my fears.  The second sets up the movie, especially Mal’s insecurities and Uma’s fury, but ends at a spot where someone could jump in without prior information and still understand what’s going on.

It’s a good book to read if you enjoyed Descendants and are looking forward to its sequel.  Give it a chance.  As sequels go, it’s definitely worthy of the title.

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Golden

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes…I can’t help it.  I like books that are going to look good on my shelf.  Usually that’s something vintage, either leather-bound or with something beautiful on the cover.  This time it was a bound manuscript.

I wasn’t expecting Golden by Jessi Kirby to be anything spectacular.  Maybe it was the format or maybe it was the fact that I’ve been disillusioned with YA fiction in general.  Either way, I was wrong.  I read Golden at the beach and really enjoyed it.

Parker is about to graduate from high school, after having done everything just right, read: “whatever her mother told her to do.”  With the biggest accomplishment of her life to date looming ahead, it’s time to start thinking about the future and what she really wants.

The basic storyline is a typical YA motif: the coming of age and choosing your own life story.  There’s the dynamic best friend attempting to convince the main character to take more risks and the cute boy she could have at the snap of her fingers if she were ever brave enough to snap her fingers.  Pretty average stuff.  But under it all is a mystery that keeps the reader interested.

While trying to figure out where her future leads, Parker finds a journal from ten years ago, written by a girl whose life ended at the age Parker is at now.  Despite the stories about the girl’s perfect life, Parker sees the parallels and how easy it is to do what is expected of you.  As she unfolds the past, she starts to see the future more clearly.

If you’re looking for a YA book that has something different, this is the one.  It’s a fun, easy read with enough substance to keep you interested.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

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Love and Work

I love most Disney movies but, if I had to pick a top ten, it would include The Princess and the Frog.  Tiana has a dream all right, but she turns it into a Goal and works her butt off in order to achieve it.  I always liked what her dad said: “You wish on that star, but it can only take you part of the way.  You have to help it out with hard work.”  And she does.

Then, things don’t go exactly as she planned.  She falls in love.  And she has to choose between Naveen and finally getting the thing she’s worked so hard for.

There are a lot of romantic comedies marketed towards grown women that handle this storyline with less grace than this animated feature.  Woman works hard to get what she wants, man comes along and shows her that all work and no play blah blah blah.  Love is more important than life-long goals anyway, right?

But at the beginning of The Princess and the Frog, Tiana has made it.  She should be reaping the rewards of her hard work except someone moved the finish line.  So she does something desperate in order to get what she’s already earned: she kisses the frog.

This is where the storyline deters from a typical story like this.  Tiana does fall in love with Naveen, but only after he learns the value of hard work and after he decides to prioritize her goal as much as she does.  She does choose Naveen over finally seeing her dream come true, but it’s a corrupted version of her dream anyway: a version that requires hurting people she cares about and a literal deal with the devil.  It makes her realize why she’d had this dream to begin with.  And, in the end, Naveen does everything in his power to make her dream come true.  She did choose his safety over the restaurant, but if he had sat at home while she built Tiana’s Place from the ground up, that boy would have been back on the street again.

All that to say, I saw an article this week that said millenials were prioritizing education and careers over marriage like it was a bad thing, but if your spouse isn’t as invested in your future as you are, there’s nothing wrong with wanting more.

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Brain on Fire

When asked to name their greatest fear, people can list anything: oblivion, dying alone, failure.  Heights, depths, sharks.  Clowns.  While I’m afraid of some of those things, my greatest fear isn’t so common.  My greatest fear is that I could, through some stroke of misfortune, lose the ability to read.

A lot of terrible things happen to Susannah Cahalan in Brain on Fire, many that are objectively worse but, to me, that was the scariest moment in the book.

Brain on Fire is a unique memoir in many ways.  In writing it, Cahalan documented her “month of madness,” from the minor personality lapses that were the first sign something was wrong to her recover as she fought to get her life back.  Most interestingly, there were long stretches of time where she lacked full consciousness.  With no recollection of her own to draw on, Cahalan instead relies on cryptic journal entries, spotty surveillance tapes, and other people’s partial accounts to piece her story together.  A typical memoir relies on distance in time to give it weight.  Her lack of recall gives Cahalan a different distance, putting her closer to her readers’ level.  This changes the tone: the reader is afraid for her though they know she’s right there.  The suspense gives them a reason to keep reading while the camaraderie gives them the courage to go on.

Her pacing encourages this tone.  The book is subtitled, “My Month of Madness,” but it feels longer as doctor after doctor fails to diagnose her.  Besides the fear of not know what was happening or how to fix it, she also shows frustration, especially as some physicians dismiss her concerns or doubt her answers to questions of drugs and drinking, answers that significantly affect their diagnosis.  Women face problems like this all the time and seeing the effect this can have in the face of a major crisis makes the story more personal.

From the beginning, it is clear to the reader that Susannah must get better.  It’s the only way she could have written the book.  But the journey Cahalan takes us on to get there is terrifying and long, while always allowing the reader hope and a good person to cling to.  Despite its horrors,  Brain on Fire is an enjoyable read and a reminder about all the good things in life.

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Land of the Free

It’s July 4th, which means I should probably be posting something patriotic right about now.  Except…I am the least patriotic person you will ever meet.  There’s a lot of things going on in our country right now that I disagree with and I think the fact that we have a literal pledge of allegiance (guys…nobody else does that; seriously) is a little…off.

I have been thinking about this all day and here’s what I’ve decided: America is a work in progress.  There is a long way to go.  We enjoy many freedoms other countries may not, but we have far too many citizens who don’t get to partake in that.  I disagree with the idea of “make America great again,” because we must move forward, not backward, and include all people if we truly want to be great.

I keep seeing these words: “Land of the free because of the brave.”  I know that’s true.  I know it began with the Founding Fathers who risked executions to declare their independence, followed the Union army as they fought to keep the nation together, and continues to show, to this day, in our military who only want to keep its citizens safe.  But that’s not all.

We are free because of the slaves who risked their lives to escape their bondage.  We are free because of the women who marched and endured imprisonment to earn the ability to vote.  We are free because of the brave souls who through the first brick at Stonewall and fought back against discrimination.

“All men are created equal” has often been a catchphrase more than a truth.  Based on race, sex, orientation, and socioeconomic status, too many people are treated as if they don’t count, as if they must justify their existence.  We are not truly free until we are all free, and we still have a ways to go.

So be brave.  Keep fighting for justice and sticking up for those considered “other.”  If we are to be the land where all are free, it will be because you were brave.

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