Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I love it when life looks, smells, tastes, sounds, or feels like fiction. When I stumble upon something (or someone) so perfectly proportioned, so quizzical and memorable, that it couldn't be coincidence. Or fate. Or chance. Or anything true. No. When the hair rises on the back of my neck due to the poetry of a place, a name, or even a set of meteorological elements, it's because, had I found the same stuff between the pages of a book, I would be in awe of the craft of it. The intention of a creator. At random, these perfections in an imperfect world make me look up and say thank you.
I'm not making any sense, huh? Here's an example:
Yesterday, I was doing some research. My serendipitous journey began with an essay titled The Lives of Girls and Women: The Writing of Alice Munro. This essay, originally published by The Center for Fiction had been reprinted by the VIDA blog. It caught my eye because Alice Munro won this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, and while I have read and enjoyed one of her short story collections (Runaway), I'm curious to read more from and about this literary heavyweight.
The essay entertained and educated, as good essays are supposed to do. It also forced me to recalibrate my own thinking in a matter of just a few sentences:
"[Munro] is making a political point, one that's radical because it's so enormous and so unsettling. The point is that the lives of girls and women, even of those who lead narrow and constricted lives, those who wield no influence, who have a limited experience in the world, are just as significant and important as the lives of boys and men, those who take drugs, ride across the border, drift down the river or hunt whales."
This recalibration is what prompted me to look up the essay's author, Roxana Robinson. She's a successful novelist, and her most recent book, Sparta, is about a young American veteran returning from war in the Middle East. She is also the author of a Georgia O'Keefe biography. All this made me want to contact Ms. Robinson to request an interview with her for The Postmasters Podcast. Unfortunately, she didn't have any personal contact information listed on her website. What she did have was a small regiment of people set up between herself and me. A publicist, an agent, and someone who coordinates speaking events. I decided the publicist was most relevant to my goal, and that's when the magic happened.
It's so easy. Too easy.
A man sins, breaks his vows, lies, gets caught, denies it all, gets confronted, confesses, apologizes, begs for forgiveness... and we judge him. Disgusting. Unworthy of the public trust. And his wife holds his hand. Forgives. Steps with him back out of the spotlight. Helps him repair his marriage. And his image. He stands up again, calls for attention, swears he's changed, improved. Credits his wife for her deep understanding, patience, mercy, and love. Nowadays, this is enough for the public to grant him that second chance we believe everyone deserves.
Then the man sins again.
Because, as a very wise friend of mine has said, "People can change; they just can't change a whole helluva lot."
That's not the easy part, though. It's human nature, sure. This is how we fail. Over and over and at our own weakest point. We recognize the pattern. It's predictable, but no, the failing part isn't easy.
What happens next is the breeze.
Moving to Europe, I expected some downsizing. The average private vehicle size, for instance, is far more compact here than in the U.S. When we see big trucks on the road, they are a novelty. We take notice and assume a wealthy American decided he couldn't transfer to the Norwegian branch of his oil company without his trusty Dodge. Cars here are just smaller. Ditto city apartments, meal portions, playgrounds, and storage spaces of all kinds.
This last is best demonstrated by the average size of refrigerators in apartments across Oslo.
On the left, you can see our kitchen the week I moved in, back in April 2011. The poor, little guy had been retrieved from the bowels of our building's basement by our landlord. Who knows how long he'd been decommissioned before that. To say we've crammed him full of food is something of an understatement. As a car-free couple, the grocery haul must be restricted to what we can fit into a backpack and reusable bags. Even then, if both of us went to the market, we were able to bring back enough food to make that tiny fridge bulge at its aging seams. There isn't enough room to hold all (or even most!) of the beer cans Jonathan's friends bring over on game nights, either.
Plastic drawers were cracked. The door bleated in protest each time we swung it open. The freezer wouldn't close all the way without effort. The temperature inside the fridge swung wildly from just cold enough to keep the milk good to so cold I couldn't pour soda past the iceberg that had formed within the bottle.
And then last week, as we sat in the living room minding our own business, Jonathan and I heard an enormous crack! One of the glass shelves had split right down the middle. And there was almost nothing on this shelf, so we knew it wasn't our fault. Little Fridgy had simply given up.
I would have felt sentimental about the whole thing had our landlord not acted so quickly to replace it. I worried about having enough time to say goodbye... and then the new hunk showed up. Gleaming. A foot taller, inches deeper. With baskets that could accommodate frozen pizzas. With shelves in the door that could hold soda bottles... get this... standing up!
I stripped Little Fridgy of his magnets and sent him on his way. Because magnets, in my world, are the way I show love to my kitchen appliance. And it was time to magnetize the new guy. Tenderly. One bit of memory at a time.
My running shoes are neon pink.
This morning, I laced them up and stepped onto the treadmill at my gym, just as I have many mornings in the last few weeks. And I ran.
I ran toward the glossy faces of the broadcasters on CNN and the BBC as they told the story. Two bombs exploded in quick succession near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, yesterday. At least three are dead. At least 144 are injured. Critical injuries include amputated limbs. Among the fatalities is an eight-year-old boy from Dorchester.
My feet thumped and thumped and thumped on the spinning road of the treadmill. I was going nowhere. And the newsmen and newswomen repeated the little we know, and all that we don't know, over and over.
Yesterday, I was watching the live stream of the Boston Marathon as the elite runners churned through the miles between the halfway point and the finish. I was watching as Yolanda Beatriz Caballero Pérez of Columbia pulled ahead of the women's lead pack by more than thirty seconds.
A year older than me, Caballero looked strong and fluid, pumping along at a blistering pace (at Mile 12, her split was 5:26). The announcers ran through the details of Caballero's life as she ran straight toward the camera. Last year, she lost her husband of five years to a stroke. He'd been her best friend, her true love, and her running coach, taking her from a daily jogger to a marathon champion. Last year, she placed 8th at the Boston Marathon and earned a selection for the Summer 2012 Olympic Games.
After a couple more miles, I watched as Caballero was overtaken by Portugal's Ana Dulce Felix, her long, blond ponytail swishing in time with her stride.
Already, I was looking forward to my next day's workout, inspired by these incredible lady athletes who make it clear what the human body is capable of.
Once the elites had crossed the finish line, I stopped checking the Boston Marathon Twitter feed. We had a birthday to celebrate. While thousands of people continued to run from Hopkinton to Boston, I sang Happy Birthday to Jonathan and carried his angel food cake into the living room. The candles wavered. He made a wish and blew them out.
Just about then, there was blood in the streets of Boston.
President Obama has warned against jumping to conclusions, but promises that whomever is responsible, be it an individual or a group, they will feel "the full weight" of justice.
Detonated for maximum carnage, the "crude devices" placed among the crowds at the finish were timed to coincide with the moment that the most runners would be crossing the finish or arriving in the last miles. Thus, we are reminded of the evil which human beings are also capable of.
Could there be anything more sadistic than cutting off a runner at the knees?
Which black hole has Audrey fallen down today, you ask? Well, I'll be happy to share.
This video clip is one of dozens which has been posted by a Baptist preacher out of Tempe, Arizona in the last few years. This guy is a NUT JOB. Unfortunately, he's handsome (Jack from Lost, anyone?), affable, articulate, has ample proof of his personal virility (seven kids), and enjoys wearing a suit and tie. I say unfortunately because all of these things make him prime preacher material, whether or not he has any real handle on the Truth.
Today alone, I've watched him preach on the role of women (surprise, he doesn't like Feminists), gender (he thinks women shouldn't wear pants), and our President (Barack Obama is the devil... "and get the hell out of my church if you don't want to hear it!").
In the clip I've posted, Pastor Steve Anderson holds forth on the "righteous government" which at least one of the original thirteen colonies had in place back in 1639. This government did away with jolly old religiously-persecutorial England's rule of law which included a whopping 150 crimes which were punishable by death. Whew. Because killing someone who forged a check is just dotty! And then the New Haveners in the Connecticut colony instated the Hebrew rule of law which had a much more reasonable list of 11 crimes punishable by death.
You're wondering how this is better than the old British standard the colonists escaped, aren't you? Good news for check forgers: they just get time in the stocks. But the new and improved list includes the following crimes:
- Perjury against the life of another
- Sodomy ("Which is homosexuality... being GAY!" Wait for the jazz hands. Seriously excellent.)
- Blasphemy in the highest degree
- Rebellion against parents
Now, I'm not going to get into a debate with anyone about capital punishment. At least not here. So, why post this?
Because it frightens me and I want to call it out of the darkness by name.
Before Willa Cather died in 1947, she specifically requested that none of her personal correspondence ever be published or even quoted from. Executors of her estate have adhered to that personal request ever since. Until now. Roughly 500 of Cather's estimated 3,000 letters will be published shortly, and are set to answer long-time questions about Cather's life, including her sexuality and her literary relationships. I'm fascinated, but conflicted.
Reading the personal correspondence of writers I admire is always a treat. It's a raw look at their personalities and belief systems. It's a chance to see something closer to a first draft. Without editors or publishers or even an audience to worry about, how does Hemingway think? How does O'Connor express her emotions? To say nothing of revelations about characters and stories limited to the public by the words The End. Fans want to know whether somewhere, deep in the gray matter, their favorites live on.
But what of privacy?
This blog and the girl behind it are part of an exhibitionist culture which has only grown over the last decade, fueled by Facebook and Twitter.
Today, people take photos of their breakfasts and post them for the world to see. Eggs and bacon frying in a pan look like eggs and bacon frying in a pan. But one hit with the Instagram stick, and you've got yourself something closer to art. Breakfasts and lunches and dinners and midnight snacks clog the arteries of the internet.
Then there are my personal favorites: Status updates and photos of failed attempts at potty training.
I unfollowed my favorite professional athlete the other day because her younger son didn't make it to his potty on time, and all 126,000 followers got to see the result. We're talking number two. When I peruse my news feed, I don't want to hear about (or see!) other people's adventures with excrement. Either from their animals or their little children. Unlike.
But then again...
"It is a woman's job to write about the wild."
When I take notes at writing lectures and seminars, I have a system. There are concepts I list, gleaned from the speakers' talking points. There are snippets of dialogue, summaries of observations. If they recommend books, I drop an asterisk. If they recommend authors, I superscript the line with an A. If they say something vital to the rest of my life, as an author and a woman and a human, I make sure to write it down exactly as they spoke it, clutched between quotation marks. Underlined, if it's something I never want to forget.
This weekend, I found myself underlining lots of true quotes, and the best ones came from Pam Houston.
I have been able to admire her from afar, though. I read her books as they come out, eagerly, expectantly. When she's featured in a new interview or posts an essay somewhere, I track it down and eat it up. I follow her on both Facebook and Twitter. We've even corresponded via social media a couple of times! But at this year's AWP conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in Boston last week, I got a chance to shake her hand!
Are you Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?
It's a stand which American society demands its participants take. This could have something to do with the rampant rise of ferociously conservative Christians in the Tea Party. Or it could be the natural aftermath of a still-raw wound since the strident political progress Feminists made in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Probably both. But the result is that everyone, even those technically untouched by the debate, must pick a side, and there is no secret option C.
As a Christian, I am familiar with this fight. There was a time when I gave Pro-Life speeches, debated Roe vs. Wade on the side of Wade. I manipulated statistics so they sounded as bad as possible. I played on sympathy and guilt. I used the famous photo of a doctor's finger being grabbed by the infinitesimal hand of a 21-week-old baby still in utero. Yes, I knew all the tactics cold.
I was sixteen. As far as I knew, none of my friends or acquaintances had had an abortion. The three girls I knew who got pregnant in high school all opted to have and keep their children. More than that, I knew it was a choice I'd never have to make myself. I was committed to remaining sexually abstinent until marriage. This was a decision I made before converting to Christianity. I was influenced by my parents, who instilled in me a huge amount of self-respect when I was very young. Later, when the Church was vying for its young people to make purity promises to the Lord, I was a prime candidate to preach that one from the rooftops.
It was easy to be Pro-Life.
Then life happened.
Dear Mr. President,
I voted for you.
Home. My husband and I moved to Norway from the United States for adventure, opportunity and the chance to try something new. We stay because, given our new perspective, it is difficult for us to believe that moving "home" would be in our best interest. Norway is consistently listed as one of the "happiest" and "best" places to live in the world. This is due to the country's high standard of living, access to higher education, national wealth, cleanliness, and independence. Children are healthier, better educated, and safer. We pay high taxes, but in return we receive tremendous benefits. Watching the vitriol of the last election from afar, I was ashamed. All that fighting, all those hard lines, all those promises, all that MONEY... and in return, what? I can't say Norway is a better country than the United States, but nor can I say that the U.S. is the best country in the world. And wouldn't you want to live and raise your family in the best country in the world? Please do what you can to make me want to come home.
Audrey Camp from Oslo, Norway
Four years ago, I was as idealistic as any other 25-year-old. Well, that doesn't mean much. Kids today become so jaded so quickly. Maybe I'll say it this way... Four years ago I was as idealistic as young Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, just before he ascended to the Presidency. The man wanted to bridge gaps, soothe the rancor of Washington, and accomplish lots of important stuff. In 2008, I liked his message, but I didn't vote for him. I believed he was too young and inexperienced to make headway in our white-haired White House, let alone the big, bad world of international relations. He won without my vote. And almost immediately, I was thrilled about that. Even in the face of a GOP machine intent on making him, young Barack Obama, a Democrat, fail in four years, whether or not that hurt our country, the man himself strove to meet his own ideals. Four years later, he earned my vote with guts, humility, and the overall optimism and decency of his party's platform.
I'm no longer a shiny-cheeked idealist, but neither, I'd guess, is President Obama. Yet, he seems to remain optimistic.
I write in the margins and on the blank pages of books authored by other writers. It's a habit. When I happen upon those scribblings later, it's always a treat. The following is an essay I penned on a trip to Northern Italy in 2009. All summer long I'd been following the Green Revolution in Iran. I'd seen the blood pool in the street beneath the body of Neda Agha-Soltan after she was gunned down during a protest in June. Her death scarred me. I wanted to know about the lives of other young women in Iran. To that end, I picked up Dr. Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran to read on our vacation...
- Across all careers, surveys report that childless women under 30 make more than men.
- More than 90 percent of workplace deaths, military deaths, and severe workplace injuries occur to men.
- Women but not men are encouraged to form committees and caucuses to advance their sex's causes in the workplace.
- U.S. unemployment is higher for men than women.