Friday, July 17, 2009

Book Reviews: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown both by Junot Diaz

A friend of mine recommended I read Junot Diaz's work after I raved about Jhumpa Lahiri.  I started off by reading his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  It was an okay read and I wasn't really impressed.  It made me chuckle a few times just because the narrator's language style is very similar to the style that folks from the South Bronx have but other than that, I really just had to press on to finish the novel.  There were lots and lots of footnotes giving the history of the Dominican Republic.  I felt like Diaz was trying to be cheeky but was distracting instead.  Eventually, I started to ignore the footnotes once I realized they weren't integral to the story.   I thought to myself that maybe Diaz is a better short story writer than a novelist.  As such, I picked up Drown, (here's the full text) which confirmed my thoughts.  He is a better short story writer.  This is the kind of writer that needs to get in and get out.  Yet and still, I was not bowled over by his collection of short stories.  They felt stunted in a way.  And as a writer, I hate to be critical of other's writing--especially folks who are published and acclaimed.  But I felt like he was trying to do something he just couldn't get done.  I wrote in a previous blog that I actually read three short stories consecutively without realizing that they were indeed three separate and distinct stories.  All the stories have this same kind of depressed energy and underlying tone that just doesn't propel you to turn the pages. Diaz, however,  is a good, solid writer.  His subject matter is also very interesting as you never really hear the story of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and for that reason, I do encourage everyone to read his work.  It's hard not to compare writers but I definitely prefer Lahiri, hands down.  There's just an elegance to her writing that Diaz doesn't possess.  It is also encouraging when I find new (at least to me) young successful short story writers.  My ultimate goal is to be published in the New Yorker magazine and so it really helps me focus when I read writers who have been.  

Here's my current reading list:
  1. White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (currently reading--It is taking a while for the story to get the ball rolling but it is an intriguing plot.  
  2. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult (which has been turned into a movie)
  3. The Time Traveler's Wife  
  4. The God of Small Things
  5. The Color of Water
I'm not married to the order.  Let me know if you'd like to read any of these titles with me.  Feel free to make a suggestion. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Business of Being Born

I finally got the opportunity to watch this documentary and I was so pleasantly surprised.  I was worried that it would be heavy handed, preachy or fanatical but it was not! It presented a balanced advocacy for homebirth that appealed to intellect and reason but did not neglect the emotional and psychological aspects of giving birth. It goes into the history of birthing in the U.S., offers comparisons and interesting (sometimes alarming) statistics.  There are some graphic images (like drugged laboring women being tied down to keep them from hurting themselves and others) but there are also very beautiful and sweet images too.  I highly recommend this documentary.  

As a person who has had both experiences of giving birth, I can honestly say both were beautiful and transformative.  But my homebirth was empowering in a way I cannot fully describe.  I wanted to say to every pregnant woman I saw, "Are you low risk?  Is everything going routinely?  Yes?!?  You should have a homebirth!!!!!"  But I contained my excitement and eventually learned that you can't just be telling any and everybody you had a homebirth.  In fact, when you do tell folks you had a homebirth, the response may often be "On purpose?"  It's still viewed a Bohemian.  Backwards. Earthy.  Not cosmopolitan and advanced and chic.  You know, right in line there with breastfeeding.  

I honestly feel like if you are able to give birth in a hospital normally, you only narrowly escaped a whole series of interventions and a c-section.  I watched one of my best friends go through it.  She called as they were wheeling her in to have the c-section and I wanted to say, "I told you so" because I told her not to be induced.  Told her to let things take their course.  But it's hard because you're not a doctor and if a woman doesn't trust her own body, she needs someone to trust (the doctor) because this is not just about her--it's about the life growing in her.  I would love to see the business of being born taken out of the hands of medical doctors and put back into the hands of midwives and women.  I'd love to see more women begin to have faith in the process and not in the technology.  Birth is a natural process.  Not to be crude . . . but it's like having a bowel movement in a way.  Sometimes you need help but the vast majority of the time, it just happens.  

Anyway, if you've never read my homebirth story, take a moment to click the link on the sidebar.  And when you get a moment, see The Business of Being Born.  (I borrowed it from my library.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

There are blogs . . .

That I used to love to visit and read.  You come to find out that these blogs could actually make up a community because their visions and purposes mesh.  In fact, some of these bloggers regularly comment on each others blogs so, if you follow links, you end up realizing it's kind of a circle of blogs.  But I get way too emotionally invested sometimes all the time so I have been staying away consistently.  This is a part of the discipline I'm trying to cultivate in my life.  I've spoken about it before:  it's called tapas.   But I miss the insightful and on-point commentary and the intellectualism.  I miss the energy and passion you can feel through the writing.  If I felt I could visit these blogs again without falling headlong down a huge energy sap, I would.  For now, I wistfully look at their "most recent posts" on the sidebars of some of the blogs I do visit.    So far, so far, I haven't clicked, no matter how interesting the conversation might be.  :)  And I intend to keep it that way.  

Monday, July 13, 2009


I was getting ready to brush Z1's teeth this morning.  Here's how the conversation went:

Me:  How'd you get to be so handsome?
Z1:  I practice.

I was rolling on the floor with laughter.  

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Almost 8 years ago, my understanding of God changed.  I sat there at my father's church, in the back row, after playing the piano and realized that I didn't believe in the Blood of Jesus to save.  For a long time before that, I had accepted that there must be more than one way to salvation because I couldn't imagine that all these devout practitioners of other faiths were hell-bound but at that point, I realized that for me personally, Jesus Christ was just not the way.  I felt a lot of guilt and confusion at that realization because Jesus did in fact say, without mincing words, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one cometh unto the Father but by me."  I knew that no longer believing in salvation through the blood and victory over death because of the resurrection had now set my life on a different course.  I also knew that it would cause a lot of problems in my family--my parents being such serious Christians.  And if you know my father and mother, you know I'm not kidding about how seriously they take their Christianity--sometimes, I will hesitatingly admit, to the detriment of their children.  Anyway . . . 

I sat in church pretending for a few years.  Still played the piano.  Still ended prayers "in Jesus' name".  Kept up appearances for a while.  

In time, I found RastafarI and that spoke to me.  I was moved by the emphasis on going back to the root (Africa).  The words of His Imperial Majesty touched me.  The love expressed for HIM in reggae music profoundly moved me.  And the idea of God being not just someone I read about who existed thousands of years ago, but someone who was just here, who was African was mind-blowing.  I loved the livity of RastafarI.  The discipline.  The modesty as a woman (which I believed saved and ordered my life).  I loved the community and oneness.  The revolutionary stance and the rebelliousness against the wickedness that is Babylon.   The non-conformity.  But even as I embraced RastafarI, I still had some reservations that I tucked neatly away.  I wanted to belong to something bigger than myself.  I had issues fully accepting any human being as God.  It seemed like once the whole Jesus-the-Son-of-God thing had broken up in my mind, it was hard for me to look on anyone as God in flesh.  

Talking to people and reasoning with them, though, I came to find out that in RastafarI, there were so many different interpretations of His Majesty that really you realized that RastafarI is not a dogmatic religion in that sense but more of a philosophy and world view.  Some folks believed in the divinity of Selassie but not that he was the Almighty.  Others believed that Selassie's role was to point folks back to Christ.  Others believed that not only was Selassie pivotal but so was Marcus Garvey and Prince Emmanuel I.  Still others believed that Selassie I was divine but not in a way that we couldn't be.  In other words, Selassie showed us how to be fully human but fully divine, i.e. a physical representation of how it could be done.  This last understanding of Selassie resonated best with me but still felt a little false in my spirit somehow.  You walk out of the RastafarI circle and hear folks speaking of Selassie I sometimes with ridicule and sometimes with admiration and that to me reinforced my understanding of Selassie.  Personally, I never viewed Selassie as the full sum total of the Almighty Jah--just a part.  

So life moves on and I am trodding RastafarI much to my parent's dismay (and actually, you could say that I was disowned for a while there).  I'm comfortable in the livity and kind of reached a place of equilibrium in the whole "Who is God?  Who is Selassie I?" question.

Until about 2 years ago.  I don't know what happened.  Just one day I realized that my understanding had changed again.  Almost completely.  I'll save that discussion for a next post but I'm just at a place right now where I'm like, "whoa".  Is this what your 20s are all about?  So many drastic mental changes?  Though I've been happily married almost 6 years now, I totally get why folks recommend waiting.  There's a lot of kinks to work out.  And you don't necessarily want to drag some unsuspecting man (that you love, of course) through the rigmarole.  

I'm amazed sometimes at how my struggles with my hair/scalp have really pushed me along in my spiritual journey and in finding my ultimate path.   When folks say, "It's just hair",  I always balk because for me, it most certainly has not been "just hair". These days there are very few head wraps because I often deal with an inflamed scalp and really wearing a wrap with no hair to support it is . . . wack.  And you will catch me wearing pants from time to time because  . . . well, it's practical.   

In a few days, RastafarI people everywhere will be celebrating the Earthlight of His Majesty.  I want to attend Nyabinghi Ises . . . but how will it feel?  Will I feel like I'm keeping up appearances?  Hypocritical?  Or will it still feel all right?  And if a bredrin or sistren I know happens to read this blog, how will they react?  Would they burn fire?How would I react?  I sometimes want to greet a Rasta person when I see them but since I don't look the part these days, I don't unless I know them personally.  I wonder if it will be awkward one day to run into a bredrin or sistren when I so clearly don't look the part anymore.  At least, I'm happy to say, that while I consider these things, it's not worrying me too much.  It's my only life and I have to live it.  

I'm finding peace somehow where I am.  I'm not completely at peace but I'm on the precipice.  Have you ever felt like finally the pieces might just be falling into place but you don't want to get too excited because you were at this point before and they didn't fall into any kind of place then?  

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