Influential Books: Till We Have Faces

I’ve decided to occasionally write about what I’ll call ‘in-the-blood’ books: books that have had such an influence on me that I don’t think I could extract them from my writing, thought-process, or standard of excellence.
See, I have book cravings (like food cravings) where I just HAVE to re-read such-and-such a book, and I’ve been craving C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces lately. It’s one of those every-five-years books.
There are a lot of fascinating things about the book, but I’m gonna offer some quick bullet points and then a few quotes from the first chapter (I just started my re-read) and I’ll probably post about it now and again as I read back through.
-This book has the most compelling, complex, real female protagonist in any book I’ve ever read. I relate to the main character, Orual, like I relate to no other character I have ever read. Her anger, her longing, her flaws, her failures. Everything.
-The atmosphere of this book is…unique. From complete, rugged realism, to faint, unprovable hints of the supernatural, to…well, I won’t spoil it for you. Yet.
-Everything feels real, real, real.
-The themes kick you in the teeth. Those who I have asked (forced) to read this book often end up shaking their fists or being discouraged…for the EXACT SAME REASONS as the protagonist.
-There is redemption, but it isn’t pretty. It’s hard as a stone and sharp as a knife, and not quite what you think
-The way this book deals with gods, belief, history, and humanity is just brilliant.
-Character development bar-none. Characters grow, change, get over things, and change their minds in meaningful ways. Those who seemed wise and right still aren’t perfect, and time tempers both reverence, fear and hate.
So here’s the beginning.
“I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend through whom they can hurt me.”
So much is achieved in this first chapter. The fear of the gods, and the atmosphere and scents surrounding them, is quickly established. The smallness and simplicity of Orual’s (made-up) home kingdom is established, the setting near real Greece is made known, and the stepmother trope is upended and reexamined.
“All I saw was that she was frightened, more frightened than I–indeed terrified. It made me see my father as he must have looked to her, a moment since…his was not a brow, a mouth, a girth, a stance, or a voice to quiet a girl’s fear.”
Also, we learn (inadvertently) that the one who is telling us the story is the “ugly sister,” one of the villains of the original Cupid and Psyche myth. We know right away we are being told an old tale, but it feels ruthless in atmosphere, and we are being told it quite differently.

Getting my Comeuppance

This is a tale of how I was full of ire and frustration (about something pretty minor, I admit) and complained and complained, and then got my comeuppance, and have that memory seared in my brain. It helps remind me that maybe, just maybe, I should reserve judgement on a frustrating situation for at least a little longer.
Now I have to provide some caveats to the little story I’m about to tell. As I mentioned, it’s about not complaining, especially when you think you know what’s going on, but you really don’t (which is more of the time than we allow). HOWEVER…
-It is a military story. In both the military and in life, there are plenty of situations in which I daresay NO ONE would begrudge you some complaining and venting. People like to joke that complaining is an Olympic sport in the Marine Corps. Everyone sits around in the smoke pit shaking their fists at the next rank above them and all the general hurry-up-and-wait nonsense. Point being, I’m not saying that there aren’t things worth complaining about (although it still may not be the best solution).
-In this story, my complaint was drastically off-base. That’s not always the case either. Sometimes the thing you’re frustrated about really is happening. It doesn’t mean complaining is going to help, but you’re going to feel less stupid about it afterwards (see below).
So, once upon a time, I was deployed and was working 12 hour shifts (7 days a week, obviously). It was good, hard work, but the shift hours were consistent, which means that it was actually kind of cushy compared to other jobs where you’ve got nothing going on one minute, and are up for 36 hours with no break following that. I knew when I started and when I stopped, and even though “down-time” is pretty much just sleep and whatever PT (exercise) you can finagle, it was still the same every day.
The problem with consistent shifts is that you get used to it. You get “spoiled,” see. No matter that I almost couldn’t string English sentences together at the end of my shift sometimes, I still knew that when I was done, I was done.
But, of course, this is the military, and we still have other things to do besides the work we’re doing. Training, briefings, etc. And when this happened, it was ALWAYS during my off-shift, which meant I had to come in two, three, or six hours before my shift started to do whatever the thing was and I HATED this, especially since it often seemed pretty pointless. The guys on the other shift just did it in cycles during their work hours, while it just made an 18 hour day for me. Less sleep, no PT, you get the idea.
Now, there was a period of time where this seemed to be happening all the time, and it was starting to grate. Now this was frustrating, but remember, this is the Marine Corps, and this is a deployment. I really had no reason to feel so entitled to my “off-hours” if they can be called that. But, somehow, I did, whether I would have admitted it or not.
Finally, the straw that broke the stupid, stupid camel’s back (mine…I’m talking about me). I was called in some two or three hours early, but with zero explanation. I didn’t even know why I had to come in, and for a good half hour I was just waiting around, frustration boiling over, and venting to the guys in our little shop area (which THANK THE LORD had a door, and no one else but my own guys heard me. Probably).
Now, I can’t explain why I’m the fool in this story without also explaining that I was good at my job. I had been forced (yes, forced) to put in for some award related to my work, and there was some list of all the work I’d been doing over the course 2 deployments.
The reason I had had to come in early–and the reason I didn’t know why–was because it was for me to receive an award and go through a conga line of officers to be congratulated, and be given coins.*
I was shocked and, internally, embarrassed within an inch of my life. Here I was shaking my fist at losing some down-time, and it was a bunch of people I didn’t even know, coming in to say “you’ve done a really good job.” I have rarely ever felt such a fool. (I do not say never, because I think it is wise to feel a fool every so often.)
Have I been completely (or even mostly) cured of my tendency to complain when “my” time is yanked out of my hands, justly or unjustly, or when something feels stupid or unfair? Well, no. But I keep this story as a reminder to help me temper my complaints, and try to handle frustrations with just a little more dignity, and be just a little more patient when things aren’t going my way. I still vent and even rant at times, but I try to consider whatever it is–a person, a situation, a hindrance–with a little more grace and a little more reason.
I don’t often succeed, but I have this story to go to when I need some help with that.
*Coins: A military tradition. Officers and higher enlisted in certain billets have coins. The coins are ranked like the billets and go all the way up to the President. Under certain circumstances they give them out, and in the olden days, people used to challenge each other at bars to see who had the “highest-ranking” coin, and then you find out who has to pay for drinks. I say “olden days” because I’ve never actually witnessed someone present a coin challenge, but it’s quite possible there are Posts and units where this is still done.

A bit of Daily Life, and Lessons, and What-not

This morning I had to take our 105 Lb wolf to the vet to get his ear checked. I, of course, had the toddler in tow (he’s on the very early side of toddlerhood) who looks like he got in a fight with the cement porch steps, because he did–big clownish red scrape all over his nose.
Also, I’m over 7 months pregnant, and I don’t know exactly what this kid is up to, but I think he moved to a new position this morning which made me feel like I have to waddle and take deep, dramatic sighs every time I sit down.
Basically I think I have become the complete stereotype of harried-mother-of-young-children. You see her in all the sitcoms and movies. She’s rarely a main character, but rather the friend of the main character who inadvertently convinces said protagonist that they will never have children because it looks exhausting (it is). As a side-note, she’s usually portrayed as obnoxious, pathetic, sanctimonious, or all three.
At the very least I do feel a little pathetic and irritable when I’m trying to wrangle giant wolves, wily toddlers, or somersaulting babies under my ribcage. But, for goodness’ sake, women have been doing this forever, all around the world, under all different circumstances, so I’m not complaining. I’m just being amused at the somewhat silly picture I must present when I’m out and about, and feeling very empathetic towards other women, all around the world and throughout history, who are or have been in the same boat.
I have to confess, nothing–nothing–has broadened my empathy quite like being in this most typical and stereotypical of circumstances. When my husband is overseas for prolonged periods of time, I can’t help but think of single moms. When I take a hot shower to relax at the end of a rough day, I can’t help but think of what an absurd luxury hot piped-in water is; many tired, weary pregnant moms don’t have this. When I look at my kid and fear for his future–fear harm coming to him–I can’t help but think of other mothers whose kids are vulnerable to far more danger, making those fears all the harder to bear, all the harder to dismiss.
I could write a full-fledged essay on that, no joke, but I’ll leave it there.
I have been tentatively dipping my toe into writing this story that’s been swimming around in my head for years, but which gets hard to pin down sometimes. I literally only have three pages of it, but I have a few of those rich, soul-grabbing scenes in my mind’s eye (meaning, the scenes that grab my soul, not necessarily anyone else’s…that remains to be seen).
But man has it been hard to kick myself into gear. Wolves, and toddlers, and pregnancy and what-not. I made a end-of-month word count goal for myself, which would sound pathetic to most, but is very ambitious for me at the present time. Working on those new-story muscles that haven’t been stretched in a good long while.
I’m also re-reading my book, because I’m usually ridiculous like that. If I go too long without reading it, I miss it, and get excited to go back and make sure I still like it, and enjoy bits that I forgot I wrote and, you know, headdesk over obnoxious typos I didn’t catch, and scrutinize everything : )
But mostly, I try to enjoy it.



The Everlasting Trope: Star-Crossed Lovers, Friends, and Foes

I haven’t done one of these trope analyses in a while, and I was hesitant to get into this one because it’s got a lot more going on than I can really address here, but I’m going to give it a go.
When I say “star-crossed” I’m applying it very broadly. This means any situation in which either friends or lovers (or anyone in some kind of meaningful relationship) have to cross or endure a significant divide of either culture, class, experience, prejudice, etc. What I am not talking about here is situations in which the lovers are 100% okay with everything and have absolutely no issues between themselves, but society is looking down on them and sneering. I clarify this, because I am talking about the challenges associated with the relationship itself, not how the relationship is treated by those outside it. There is probably another, more accurate term out there for what I’m talking about, but this was all I could think of.
First, three things:
  1. I actually do really love this trope when done well.
  2. It is often done poorly, without any thought or examination or proper context.
  3. It resonates–like most age-old tropes–for a reason.
So, as per usual, I’m going to start with the problems and work my way towards the good stuff.
When the trope doesn’t work, why is that? What are its main flaws?
  1. It’s often romanticized when it shouldn’t be.
What do I mean here? I mean, of course there is Romance (in the classical sense, as in atmosphere and thrill, not necessarily a romantic pairing) in overcoming obstacles, but there’s more to it than that, and that “more” is often neglected.
Let’s take a super classic example of this trope: the servant girl who falls in love with the prince. People love this story. You could read nothing but some variation on this for the rest of your life and probably never run out of books!
But the truth is, that in many historical contexts (which applies to a lot of fantasy that has a historical setting parallel) the disparity in experience, education, and treatment meant that people of low station (and I’m not even talking slaves alone, just any low station) were often scarcely viewed as human by those of station and power. Or they were seen as a inherently inferior type of human. Horrifying, but true in many times and places. And the way society worked (and in some cases still works) reenforced these beliefs, because those of “lower station” rarely had access to the education, arts, culture, etc. that might “humanize” them to their social superiors.
So Mr. Prince-guy would have to do far more than clutch his heart and say “Egads, she is so beautiful, I love her!” He would have to look at her and come to the realization that, despite their very real differences in experience, she is not just a package of simple functions and desires in human form: she is capable of thoughts and desires just as varied and complex as his. And crossing that bridge would be a big philosophical deal, not easily overcome by mere romantic inclination, and subject to many struggles and setbacks and misunderstandings. Just as it takes a whole lifetime to build a good marriage, it can take a long time, and a lot of work, to dismantle a closely held prejudice.
And if Mr. Prince doesn’t cross that bridge or dismantle that belief? That’s a whole other ball of wax. Then she is mere object to him…an intrigue, a dalliance. And that isn’t romantic at all.
The point is, unless you actually deal with the ramifications of whatever social divide the people are trying to cross, then it will be false, and possibly very troubling. Something painful and destructive is being romanticized. This leads to:
     2. The challenges are glossed over:
This is obviously directly related to the above. I’m going to give a contemporary real-life example for this one: Cross-cultural marriages.
Cross-cultural marriage are wonderful and beautiful and occasionally quite hard. The friends and family of mine who have cross-cultural marriages went into those marriages knowing that they had and extra set of challenges (for marriage will always be a challenge) because there was so much else they needed to learn, and so much that you cannot account for except with the simple passage of time.
Can you afford to travel to meet your new in-laws? Can they come to you? What is expected of you? Are there negative dynamics between the two cultures at large? Will the wedding be like your culture, like theirs, or both? What about child-rearing? What about native languages? Communication barriers? Does either person fear that they will lose something of who they are and where they come from? Do they fear one culture will dominate the other one until it disappears? Are there little frustrations and prejudices that pop up at times of conflict, souring the exchange?
All of these can, of course, be faced, discussed and dealt with in a loving, healthy way. But consider that, even under the most idealistic circumstances, where everyone is happy, and loving, and accepting and supportive, these challenges will still need to be faced. That is not a bad thing, but think how much greater the barriers when there is turmoil, enmity, bad history, bad blood, or anything of that sort going on. The phrase “love conquers all” is not inaccurate, but it belies the difficulty of the actual conquering part. Love is work. Friendship where there is bad history and old wounds is hard. Relationships where you still don’t understand some deep, meaningful aspects of the other person’s life…those are going to take extra effort and grace and compassion.
So when these previous two flaws are in play, it often leads to the third, or is simply replaced by it:
    3. It’s a false barrier, aka, manufactured drama
This is when–whether it’s historical or a fantasy world with complex social dynamics–no one in the story acts like real people would when brought up under those harsh/divisive circumstances. Only the villains uphold the contextually unexplained social divides, and they do so simply to display their villainy, not as a complex character trait of someone raised in that society.
This is when no “good guy” holds a bad opinion bestowed by their station/culture. All the good guys don’t care about class/race/wealth/education/cultural strife! They are 100% unaffected by the social mores (at least, the bad ones) around them!
So the only reason for the star-crossed situation is to create drama where there otherwise would be none, because everyone you care about already holds the correct opinions, or the opinions we want them to hold.
So those are the problems. Oh, but when it’s done right, this can be so compelling! And the reasons for that run precisely counter to the problems above.
    1. Sacrifice and overcoming obstacles ARE romantic
When a character is willing to sacrifice their convenience, reputation, wealth, status, or whatever else for a friend? That is powerful. When they are willing to sacrifice their dearly held notions about a supposed enemy, or a “class” of people they thought was “beneath” them (Pride and Prejudice for a very mild example), that too is powerful.
When a character realizes “Wait, I care about this person way too much. What? How is that possible? I may have to reframe my whole way of looking at things because of them!” That is fascinating (IF DONE RIGHT).
    2. The challenges are confronted and complexity ensues
Not only is it meaningful when characters bridge cultural divides, but it packs a better punch when it doesn’t always wrap up with a neat, perfect bow. I’m thinking of a particular scene in Zen Cho’s The Sorcerer to the Crown (which I adored) in which one of the main characters, Zacharias, (who is of African descent and a former slave) has the final conversation with his adopted father, a British gentleman. It nearly brought me to tears, it was so beautiful, but I don’t think it would have been as beautiful if not for the imperfection and complexity of their relationship as portrayed throughout the book.
Zacharias and his father genuinely love each other and have a real and meaningful relationship, but it is fraught with difficulties. The father doesn’t–and can’t–fully understand what life is like for Zacharias, and what he faces due to his skin color and background. The father also bought Zacharias, and as a result Zacharias has never known his real family. There is sometimes real frustration, wounds, and anger between these two people who genuinely love each other.
The divide is bridged, but it’s not always an easy bridge to walk on.
As a result:
    3. When the barrier is real and great, it is more powerful to see it come down
Obviously all these points are interrelated, but when the star-crossed thing happens and it is severe, and poses a real hindrance to a romance or a friendship, where there are real internal and external challenges to overcome, then it means a whole lot more when that happens.
There is something inherently fascinating about seeing two cultures/worlds collide, and there is something hopeful and redemptive in stories where that collision ends in love, or growth, or a rising from the ashes, rather than in (the quite equally possible) destruction or hatred or increased division.
There is actually a whole OTHER facet (or several perhaps) to the appeal of this trope, more to do with the Cinderella effect (the romantic idea of being drawn out of obscurity by someone powerful and important because you amaze and allure them, or something like that), but I decided to focus on this part instead. Maybe I’ll do the rest of it another time!


Language and Dialect

In my book, language and dialect are very important. Not in a Tolkien way–I did not invent languages for the purpose of the book–but in a contextual way. Language and dialect matter to the characters and influence actions in meaningful ways. They are geography to be navigated–well or poorly, depending on the character–and they are signs and symbols of how close or far one is from home.
There’s an old story in the Bible, from which we get the idiom “shibboleth.” We use this as sort of a synonym for “password” or “things-we-all-say-in-this-context.” In that story, two tribes are at war and one side stops everyone at the river and asks them to pronounce the word “shibboleth.” If they pronounce it one way, they are permitted to pass: they belong. If they pronounce it another way, they are killed, because they do not belong.
Life or death by pronunciation. Acceptance or exclusion by the turn of a phrase. Joy or despair by way of mere lilt.
I did not set out to make this a theme or predominant feature of my story–though it became one–and I did not do it because I thought it would be cool or simply to add some “flair.” It was instinctive, and based on personal experience.
A quick story: Spanish is by no means my first language, but I love it, and learned it from two friends at my old church–one from Mexico, the other from Colombia. I proceeded to work at a clinic in Chiapas, Mexico for two months when I was 15, gaining a little extra fluency during that time. Not long after that, I lived on a Moshav in Israel (age 17) and my first two roommates were from Colombia. I was placed with them because they did not speak much English, and I spoke just enough Spanish to get by.
They chastised me (lovingly) for my accent. My American accent (and those pirate-like “R”s)? No. My Mexican accent. It was too strong, they said. They advised me to “soften” to a Colombian accent, if you please. As an American, I could expect to be told I sounded too American, but to be told I sounded too Mexican was amusing to me. Frankly, I felt complimented. Perhaps I felt a little proud of having gained at least some of the proper lilt of our southern neighbor, though I don’t doubt that in those months of volunteering, my Spanish did Colombianize somewhat.
Speakers of different varieties of Spanish are usually quite mutually intelligible, but those unique Puerto Rican or Colombian or Mexican idioms and accents can be marked from a mile off which is a beautiful and fascinating thing.
Another quick story: When I studied Arabic, I also did brief courses in some of the major dialects. Since I deployed to Iraq twice as a linguist, Iraqi dialect became the most familiar and comfortable to me, though they are all wonderful.
The thing is, Arabic dialects are a whole different ball game. Some of these are NOT mutually intelligible. Iraqi dialect has Persian and Turkish influences and ranges from region to region; Levantine has remnant French, and all the silkiness thereof; Egyptians have one letter they straight-up pronounce differently than everyone else. And because Arabic is such a vast language, each country can have a whole set of vocabulary that scarcely touches the vocabulary of another country even though both are fully and historically Arabic!
And as for my book? Well I can never get over how powerful language is, both as art, but also as a vital tool. If you have ever been in a country where you do not know the language, and few people know your native language, you know how crippling that can be. It limits the ability to appreciate the people around you, while putting you entirely at the mercy of whichever person DOES speak both languages. We have to trust translators to communicate the news, art, literature, conversation etc. in a rich and full-throated way. We have to trust that we’re getting the truth.
And usually we are. But the phrase “lost in translation” exists for a reason.
Having stood as the go-between for one language and another, I felt how strange and curious it is to be that middle person who isn’t even part of the conversation and yet ensures that it happens well and truthfully, and how frustrating it must be (perhaps far more so in a military context) to be on either end, hoping you really understand what’s going on around you, hoping you really understand each other.
These thoughts and these experiences bled into my writing–as most things do–and became a series of wide-open doors and almost insurmountable barriers for different characters. It isn’t the point of the whole story, it isn’t the plot, but it is a pervasive climate, so to speak. When people say “write what you know” I think this is part of what they mean.


The Olympics

I was going to write about dialect (still will) but decided that a few thoughts on the Olympics would be more timely.
The Olympics are so weird and cool. If you just say “Oh, it’s an international athletics competition,” it doesn’t fully capture the compelling strangeness that is the Olympics. For decades, almost the entire WORLD gets together to pitch their trained athletes (and, in some ways, their respective philosophies of how to do things…see USA vs. China) at one another. It almost has that ancient ring to it of “I’ll send my best swordsman, and you send your best and we’ll see who wins.”
What fascinates me about the Olympics, in no particular order:
Sports, Suddenly
The truth is I don’t watch a lot of sports. My chief “sport” has always been running, with a little bit of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu thrown in, and whenever I encountered organized sports as a child I balked at the organization bit. Rules and regulations befuddled me. What do you mean you can’t tackle people in soccer? Basketball? Why can’t you tackle in ALL the sports? (In retrospect, I probably would have liked Rugby…) Why do we have to do it like that?
My favorite game was this nonsense one we used to play in the Marine Corps that employed every ball the gym would lend us (football, soccer ball, tennis ball), had almost no rules, and ALL the tackling. It was briefly abolished for creating too many injured Marines.
The point? I still don’t follow sports so much. I can truly enjoy the spirit of a game if I care about a particular team or player, and every now and then I’ll appreciate an event, but it’s usually not my thing.
So, yes, I’m one of those. When the Olympics are on, it’s this awesome opportunity to look in on a world of incredible talent and athleticism…a world I know very little about. I love being astonished by the athletes strength, capacity, calmness, and resilience. I’m just stunned looking at some young woman ten years my junior and thinking, “wow, you are the best in the WORLD at what you do, and you are tough as nails.” I just love that.
Politics, Subtly
Ostensibly we put politics aside for the Olympics. It’s part of the spirit of the games, of coming together despite our conflicts and differences. And that is pretty astonishing, considering how many conflicts are ALWAYS ongoing and actually influencing daily lives. If you or I or someone else are somewhat personally insulated from the effects of these conflicts, do not for one moment imagine that is the case for everyone. What outrages you via twitter is actually a live and painful reality for a lot of people.
It is a strange and wonderful thing that all of this can be set aside to come together and honor one another’s athletes. It is also not totally accurate.
What do I mean by this? Here are some examples of how politics and conflict are ever-present in the Olympics, in ways both good and bad:
-The first ever refugee contingent present at the Olympics this year. The Olympians in this contingent are getting to compete under a unique status–neither for their country of residence, nor for their home country–but are also bringing attention to the plight of refugees in different parts of the world.
-The host country, whoever that happens to be, usually wants to send a message to the world about who they are–about their status in the global community, and about what they believe.
-The Beijing Olympics had one of the most praised opening ceremonies in a long time–they were also controversial because of the intense disagreements regarding human rights concerns in China. At least in America, there was as much discussion about the political state of things as there was about the grandeur of the ceremonies.
-The 1972 Munich games, wherein the games were used by a terrorist group as an opportunity to kill Israeli athletes on what would inevitably be a world stage, impossible for anyone to ignore.
-Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. This is one of the most powerful examples, I believe. Though America struggled (and often still struggles) with race and injustice, it had a chance to show what it stood for–what we aspire to–in the very face of the racial animosity and discrimination already being advocated by the Nazi regime at the time. No, Jesse Owens could not stop WWII or the Holocaust by his mere presence, but who knows what impression he made on young minds not yet in thrall to Nazi ideology? The US had its own extremely dangerous and damaging eugenicist movement in the 20’s and 30’s, and we could have joined in the death parade. Instead, we chose to stand against and in contrast to that.
The list goes on. The Olympics can be an opportunity to put on a certain face, to take a certain stand. To do good or ill, both actually or symbolically.
National Pride, Healthily
You can both enjoy your own nation’s athletes, and rejoice whole-heartedly with others. If a country that has never received a medal before receives one, this fills us with joy. We enjoy their pride. We are affected by their tears. We are truly glad for them. It’s the kind of wholesome pride that leaves ample room to enjoy the successes of those who do not represent you.
Humility, Constantly
May seem like a contradiction to the previous point, but isn’t. A strong, happy, lovely nineteen year old woman is the best in the whole wide world at something. Something very difficult. Something I could never do. That is truly awesome. And humbling. In a good way.
It is also encouraging. Have you seen all those athletes that finish on track or in gymnastics with a limp? Some (Kerri Strug) still had hope to medal. Others had lost all chance of it–and yet they continued. They wanted to finish, no matter what, because that is what they had set out to do.
And what about Kerri Walsh Jennings? This one was particularly inspirational to me as a mom. When she won in the 2012 London Olympics, she was 5 weeks pregnant with her third child. Yes, she is a brilliant athlete–the best–but also a loving mother. I know a lot of people look down on motherhood as not being influential or important or deserving of any accolades, and they loathe when motherhood is brought up regarding a woman with a popular profession. I do not think this is very fair to moms. To see a mom–who is proud of being a mom!–doing something so awesome gives me great joy and encouragement.
So for all the strangeness, and all the conflicts, the Olympics can be pretty amazing, and I think I have enjoyed them more this year than I have in a while.




I am trying to do nice things to this website, but I am not good at this at all. My idea had been that, once I reached a certain point in this whole submission/publishing process, I would maybe upgrade to a paid website and the I would pretty it all up and what-not. I have heretofore avoided doing anything else, because–to tell the truth–I just don’t know how.
But I did something new yesterday! I added a contact form! Despite my sense of dread and discomfort while approaching the task, it took all of five minutes to accomplish. This gives me confidence to attempt new, low skill-level things such as: Making a better “About” page. Actually doing a “book” page that gives some information about the book, rather than about why I wrote the book. (This was an accident. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, and somehow linked my “Books” page to a previous blog rather than creating a fresh page and populating it with the correct information. I think I can fix this.)
Anyone who has even one drop of internet savvy would probably laugh at how bad I am at all this, and how daunted I am by these simple tasks. But I’m figuring it out, and I will be trying to fix these little things over the next few days so that when/if I redo the website completely, I’ll have a better idea of how to go about it.
In Other News:
There really isn’t much other news. I am currently reading Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (I’m about 2/3 of the way through) and I am still re-reading GK Chesterton’s In Defense of Sanity as well as his omnibus of Father Brown stories. I WAS reading Blaise Pascal’s Pensees (very, very slowly, with lots of underlining) but I cannot find the book. It has gone missing in my travels. I hope I find it, because of all the UNDERLINING.
I also finally picked up a book I’d read about 60 pages of and then neglected, partly because my language skills are a little rusty, and the book is pretty academic and therefore not a breezy read in any language: It’s المجتمع العراقية: تحليل سيكوسوسيولوجي لما حدث ويحدث. (My translation: Iraqi Society: A Psychosociological Analysis of What Has Happened and What is Happening. It’s by Qasim Husayn Saleh). It was published in 2007, so there are a lot of new developments in Iraq not addressed, but the angle in most of the essays is historical anyway–the history of how Iraqi society works. My goal is to finish it this summer, both because I am deeply interested in the history and present of Iraqi society, and because my language skills need some refurbishment as well. It is too beautiful and rich a language to fall in disuse, thence to be lost.
After that, however, I’m going to re-read a novel called Girls in Riyadh, which will be easier and more fun since I’ve read it before and it’s written in a blog-post style, and the dialogue is in dialect…it’s all much more informal and cozy.
By the way, I have a whole blog post I want to write about dialects (100% related to my books, I promise!) and I think that is the one I will write next. So: to be continued in our next…