Friday, October 13, 2017

"The aliens we hoped to meet"

Prime Space is ready to initiate their MarsNOW mission. They’ve chosen three astronauts to complete a seventeen-month simulation. Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei have been selected for being “among other things, the three people least likely to kill one another under these conditions.”

Each member of the team has a support person who is responsible for sending frequent communication.

For Helen, it’s her daughter Mireille, an aspiring actress who has dealt with her mother’s fame and frequent absence since she was a child. She begins a flirtation with Luke, one of the crew members assigned to track the psychological well-being of the team.

Yoshi’s primary support is his wife. Madoka is a high-level executive that frequently travels. Her company designs robots who serve as home-health aides and companions. Confronted by her own robot prototype, she begins questioning what is her true self.

Sergei’s sons Dmitri and Ilya are adjusting to their new life in America with their mother’s new husband. Dmitri begins exploring his sexuality and worries about being discovered.
Meanwhile, in the simulator, each person of the “dream team” struggles to hide any weakness or perceived shortcoming that will make them ineligible for the real mission.

In The Wanderers, Meg Howrey couldn’t have chosen better characters to explore the psychological and physical limits of humankind. Luke, one of the observers, remarks on the standards they have set and the hope they represent: “Wise, creative, benevolent, possessed with an understanding about the fundamental nature of reality…We could be the aliens we hoped to meet.”

Friday, October 6, 2017

Our Deepest Fear

I’m three weeks into my graduate program in pastoral studies.

The Director of Worship and Liturgy shared this with us during orientation. My yoga teacher happens to be a fan of Williamson, so I had heard the first part of this quote from her many times. I kinda like the second part, too.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The words above can be found here:
A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles by Marianne Williamson

My TBR list is growing by the week. Did I mention it was only the third week?

Creation Versus Chaos: The Reinterpretation of Mythical Symbolism in the Bible by Bernhard Anderson

Diary of St. Faustina by St. Maria Faustina Kowalska

I and Thou by Martin Buber

Life of the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Love and Responsibility by Karol Woktyla

Method in Theology by Bernard Lonergan

Pacem in Terris by John XXII

She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse by Elizabeth Johnson

The Origin and Goal of History by Karl Jaspers 

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong

Friday, September 29, 2017

Banned Books Week

Celebrating the freedom to read during Banned Books Week, I picked up Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter. According to the American Library Association, this one was “challenged” in a Wisconsin school district because it “contains an Islamic prayer.”

Based on a true story, Winter tells the story with the voice of a grandmother living in Afghanistan. When the woman’s son and daughter-in-law disappear, she tries to find ways for her granddaughter Nasreen to cope. Discovering a secret school for girls, she enrolls Nasreen. Months go by. Nasreen never smiles. Finally, after the winter recess, a classmate reaches out to Nasreen, and she smiles for the first time since her parents’ disappearance.

With books, “Nasreen no longer feels alone…Now she can see blue sky beyond those dark clouds.”

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Animators

Think of The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker as a grittier Fangirl (by Rainbow Rowell). Or perhaps a more sharply focused take on The Interestings (by Meg Wolitzer).

While I was reading it, I kept picturing a cartoon sequence from the (amazing) Amazon series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.

In Episode 7 (season 201), bongo drums start playing a 70s beat as one of the main characters, Ranger, ruminates on puberty. “If nature puts you at the back of the pack, you do anything you can to get to the front.” He adds, “First you get the hair, then you get the power, then you get the respect.”

In Whitaker’s work, Mel and Sharon meet in a college arts program. Discovering a mutual affinity for drawing and a love of obscure comics, they begin collaborating. When their film of Mel’s coming-of-age story becomes a word-of-mouth sensation, they begin pondering their next project. An unexpected stroke forces them to pause. 

During her recovery, Sharon opens up about a traumatic event she experienced as a child. When she is well enough, the two make a trip to Kentucky to introduce Mel to her family and the surroundings that shaped her. The two begin animating Sharon’s story. However, in some ways, the project will prove to be even more damaging than her stroke.

Through Mel and Sharon's stories, Whitaker examines the intersection of memoir, truth, and fiction. Does the storyteller, regardless of medium, have the right to reveal the lives of others central to the story? She also looks at the healing process. When our identity is tied to what we do, what happens when our abilities are changed in some way?

Read an excerpt here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

“After the initial kerplunk”

This week’s challenge was to read a collection of stories by a woman. Having loved her novel and memoir, I picked up Thunderstruck and Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken.

In the title story, Wes and Laura worry their pre-teen daughter Helen is growing up too fast. The family decides (as one does) to take a spur of the moment summer trip to Paris. “The plan was to disrupt their lives, a jolt to Helen’s system before school started again in the fall…Perhaps the problem all this time was that her soul had been written in French.” And it appears it has, as Helen discovers an ease in communicating with taxi drivers and food vendors in the French she has learned in school.

The family slowly starts to relax into the rhythm of their days and the parents begin letting their daughters venture out on afternoon excursions by themselves. However, they learn they’ve let their guard down too soon when the phone rings in the middle of the night. A nurse tells them Helen is in the ICU.

Days turn to weeks, and eventually the family decides to send Laura and their youngest daughter back to the States. As Wes watches his daughter slowly, painfully recover, he turns to art as therapy. And we are left wondering who needs more healing.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the interview in the back between the author, McCracken, and Ann Patchett. Writers and friends, the two discuss memoirs, the thought process behind organizing the collection in this book, and book prizes.

Find suggestions for more story collections here.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Serafina's Promise

Today is a repost in honor of #internationalliteracyday and the storms ravaging the Caribbean.

Serafina's Promise by Ann E Burg

Serafina's chore each morning is to collect water for her parents and grandmother:

"One foot forward-
The other foot forward-

This is only the first of many chores she faces growing up in rural Haiti.

After meeting the young doctor that takes care of her baby brother, Serafina decides that she too wants to become a doctor when she grows up. First, she must figure out a way to ask her parents to send her to school. She approaches her father and together they make a plan. However, nature decides to throw several obstacles in their way. 

Told in verse, the story drums with the beat of the parade Serafina watches with her father, rushes with the waters of the flood she flees with her mother, and shines with the hope she sees in the stars. 

After my daughter and I both read the book, we discussed it using the questions we found here. We both admitted to crying through most of Part III of the book. And we both agreed that we are very fortunate to be able to go to school. As Serafina says, "Education is the road to freedom." My daughter interpreted that to mean, "If we go to school, we can be whatever we want."

One foot forward.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Then the floods came

One morning I was awakened by a knock on my door. I opened it to find some very serious officials wearing rain gear. Grabbing my passport and purse, I accompanied them up the hill to the community center. Torrential rains had caused the river to flood the first floor of my apartment building my second week in Japan.

At the community center, I clumsily tried to make onigiri with the women of the town, who were tasked with feeding the volunteer firefighter brigade. At one point, later that evening, one of the women motioned for me to come with her. She invited me to her house for tea, and we eventually worked out her sons were students at the junior high and elementary schools where I was to be an assistant English teacher.

I was allowed to return to my apartment, picking my way through the mud that now filled the foyer. It would take weeks for the clean-up, but in the meantime Junko and her family checked up on me and helped introduce me to others in the community.

As the waters recede in Texas and Louisiana (and Bangladesh, India, and Nepal), and recovery proceeds, my hope is those communities are  strengthened, not torn apart. And strangers who encountered each other by happenstance and tragedy become neighbors.

Although there have been plenty of real-life Houston heroes in the news this week, here’s a list to direct you to some fictional ones as well.