Friday, August 12, 2016

Louisa May Alcott Challenge Semi-Accepted

Hi ya'll.

I'm  off work today and it's simply lovely to indulge in the luxury of literary fun and conversation.

A few months ago, I discovered an absolutely scrumptious literary blog called Relevant Obscurity. I can't even begin to explain how I love to sit down with a cup of just about anything and read this blog. RO introduced me to the Louisa May Alcott Challenge, which honestly, I was simply too busy to participate in. And I've already read Little Women (and by default Good Wives), Little Men, Jo's Boys and An Old Fashioned Girl (parts I & II). And when I say I've read them, I've read them many times and can quote several sections at great length, so as much I would have liked to have spent the time covering some new Alcott stories, I don't feel so bad about what I've already done.

I first came across Little Women in The Children's Hour collection that my mother bought along with a set of encyclopedias.

I loved these books growing up. They start out simply and get progressively harder and the stories get a bit longer with each book. We had all sixteen and still do in storage somewhere. This collection includes the first chapter of Little Women and I was surprised later to find out that it was an entire book and only when I came across a chapter of an "Ellen Tebbits" book, did I realize that all of the stories were excepts from whole books, sending me on a search for the entire books from my favorites. Most of which I never found, but of course, Little Women was right there in my school library.

Laurie Welch writes Relevant Obscurity and after a wonderful conversation about Rilla of Ingleside, it was nice to go back and read her review of Little Women and see her progress in the LMA Challenge. I wanted to write back a comment, and having never learned to be succinct, my comment ended up being longer than her post!

Rather than unfairly taking up her comments section, I thought I'd just share my bit here and link to it.

So! My two cents about LMA: LMA preaches against preaching but even so, she can't help moralizing a little. The best impression gleaned from LMA is that good manners and kindness never go out of fashion, whatever else may come and go. That's an especially apt lesson, even to the present of day of cell phones and social media.

If there are any easter eggs in LMA's books, they are her asides on several matters. Her comments are not remotely subtle and are sweetly, killing, almost sarcastic additions to her prose that give her the last word for all time, in case anyone was in doubt about how she felt.

In "Jo's Boys," LMA writes an entire chapter called "Jo's Last Scrape" that is obviously a parallel description of how she mainly wrote for money and was as more surprised than anyone that "Little Women" had been a success.
Things always went by contraries with Jo. Her first book, laboured over for years.. .foundered on its voyage... The hastily written story, sent away with no thought beyond the few dollars it might bring, sailed with a fair wind and...came home heavily laden with an unexpected cargo of gold and glory.

The world saw the prosperity...but the success Jo valued most, the happiness that nothing could change or take away, few knew much about.

It was the power of making her mother's last years happy and serene; to see the burden of care laid down for ever, the weary hands at rest, the dear face untroubled by any anxiety, and the tender heart free to pour itself out in the wise charity which was its delight.

Jo's Last Scrape
Jo's Boys - Louisa May Alcott
LMA also writes quite blatantly about how tedious and annoying she found the idea of being famous. "Jo's Last Scrape" is actually the irony of liberty loving "Jo" suddenly being unable to go out without being recognized and the box it put her in. She also covers the same topic of fame not being all it's cracked up to be in "An Old Fashioned Girl" where she disguises herself as "Kate."

The fame she never did quite accept; for it takes very little fire to make a great deal of smoke nowadays, and notoriety is not real glory. The fortune she could not doubt, and gratefully received; though it was not half so large a one as a generous world reported it to be.
Jo's Last Scrape
Jo's Boys
My children, beware of popularity; it is a delusion and a snare; it puffeth up the heart of man, and especially of woman; it blindeth the eyes to faults; it exalteth unduly the humble powers of the victim; it is apt to be capricious, and just as one gets to liking the taste of this intoxicating draught, it suddenly faileth, and one is left gasping, like a fish out of water," and Kate emphasized her speech by spearing a sardine with a penknife, and eating it with a groan.
... Fanny took a good look at her, wondering if the time would ever come when women could earn a little money and success, without paying such a heavy price for them; for Kate looked sick, tired, and too early old.

An Old Fashioned Girl
Louisa May Alcott
Lastly, it seems LMA also took a lot of fan girl flack for not letting Jo wind up with Laurie, much the same way JK Rowling is still getting flack for Hermione Granger not ending up with Harry Potter or any other fandom not ending the way fans thought it should. LMA begins the last chapter of "An Old Fashioned Girl" with what has to be the greatest "Oh snap" in literary history.
"Come, Philander, let us be a marching,
  Every one his true love a searching,"
WOULD be the most appropriate motto for this chapter, because,intimidated by the threats, denunciations, and complaints showered upon me in consequence of taking the liberty to end a certain story as I liked, I now yield to the amiable desire of giving satisfaction, and, at the risk of outraging all the unities, intend to pair off everybody I can lay my hands on.
LMA also got tired of fans clamoring for new stories and actually threatened to kill off the March family but gives them a reprieve, deciding that they all pretty much lived happily ever after
Jo March on answering fan mail:
"I will answer this myself. A little sick girl wants a book, and she shall have it, but I can't write sequels to all the rest to please her. I should never come to an end if I tried to suit these voracious little Oliver Twists, clamouring for more..."

LMA at the end of Jo's Boys:
It is a strong temptation to the weary historian to close the present tale with an earthquake which should engulf Plumfield and its environs so deeply in the bowels of the earth that no youthful Schliemann could ever find a vestige of it. But as that somewhat melodramatic conclusion might shock my gentle readers, I will refrain, and forestall the usual question, 'How did they end?' by briefly stating that all the marriages turned out well. The boys prospered in their various callings; so did the girls...

And now, having endeavoured to suit everyone by many weddings, few deaths, and as much prosperity as the eternal fitness of things will permit, let the music stop, the lights die out, and the curtain fall for ever on the March family.

Like I said: Oh, snap : )

I find that I turn to the books of my girlhood when I am troubled about something. Anne of Green Gables and Little Women have life lessons that deepen and change with maturity and understanding.

Recently, when I adopted a child, I found myself reading Anne over and over again. It's amazing how, despite the sweetness of the stories, they do cover the real feelings of ambivalence over adoption.

Likewise, I read Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl when I'm trying to make up mind what to do about things - spiritually, morally. They're not so much guideposts as reminders - that life's great questions are only as complicated as we make them. And that good manners and kindness really never go out of style.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Sometimes our principles and ideals are put to test. This past January I found out exactly where the rubber meets the road, I had to put my money where my mouth is, show and prove and every other cliche you can think of.

Put up or shut up.

So my nephew and his girlfriend both suddenly became unavailable to parent their child. The reasons are not all that uncommon, but suddenly I was faced with a decision. Either take the kid myself or let him go off into foster care.

I know there are a lot of good foster parents and homes out there. But there are quite a few that are not so good either. And the idea of sending a kid off to total strangers didn't sit well with us either. My mother and I.

But my life is so different from when I began this blog. Then I had Ye Old Matey and Little Arabella and the double duo Mighty Mutts. Now, Ye Old Matey is Ye Ex Matey. Little Arabella isn't even College Arabella. She's Grown Up Living In New York with her Lesbian Girlfriend Arabella. The Mighty Mutts are both dead.

I'm back home with my mother.

I went back to school and finished an Associate's Degree and an internship. I've made several career moves since then and I finally landed a job that seems to be lasting.

The last thing I expected to be doing at this point was raising a toddler. But who am I to claim that "children need homes" and deny my own family? So, here I am, typing with a two-year-old at my knee.

It's where the rubber training pants meets the road. I hope I'm up to the challenge. Again.

Round two.

Ding ding.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

When Good White People Do Racist Things

I work with a white woman who is fairly kind. She jumps in wherever she is needed. She has a kind word to say every day to everyone, she is friendly, down to earth and any time I or others have a question she is more than willing to help.

But twice now I've witnessed her doing or saying something racist and I have a strong urge to tell her about it.

The first time, she touched my hair. We were working together on a project and I think, before she realized it, before even she really knew what she was doing, she touched my hair.

I froze. It was odd to be working and suddenly to find my hair  being touched without my permission, without even having been asked. And the look on her face was partly mesmerized, partly curious. It was obvious she'd been looking at and thinking about my afro for some time.

I looked at her and said, incredulously,"Did you just touch my hair? What are you doing?"

And she said, with that same mesmerized look, "It's just so....poofy."

I realized then that I was probably the first black person she had ever been close enough to for any length of time, physically and emotionally, that she was able to avail herself of the opportunity to actually touch their hair.

Still, she should have asked. I may have said yes, but depending on my mood and overall desire not to be treated like an animal in a petting zoo, I probably would have said no.

Her desire to touch my hair is one thing. Acting on it, of course, is quite another and I did not appreciate being a curiosity. I teased her about it the next day - forgiven but not forgotten.

She never apologized. She never asked me if it bothered me. She did repeat her original phrase at least twice. "I just couldn't help it. It's just so poofy."

And I know she was shocked by my reply as white people always are when you point out their whiteness. I said, resignedly, "That's ok. A lot of white people do that to me. I have no idea why." Actually, I know exactly why, but I was trying to give her a hint.

She laughed but in a way that was slightly uncomfortable. Good. I know for a fact that white people do not like to have their whiteness pointed out, especially by black people. But I wanted to throw her off balance a bit. She actually walked out of the office for a bit on some supposed errand, but I think by the time she came back, she had regained her composure.

I should have said something then. I should have had "the talk" with her then. Because if I had, maybe she wouldn't have said the nearly unpardonably racist thing she said to our visitor the other day

We have a lot of Spanish-speaking people where I work. I speak Spanish decently enough to follow along but I'm still at that stage where it takes me forever to parse a sentence together out loud. I do not even try to pretend that the small amount of Spanish I speak is on par with the fluent speakers and I tend to greet them in English unless it's someone I know well enough to greet with "buenos dias" or "buenos tardes" and they know that I'm being polite, not condescending and that my Spanish really doesn't lend itself to more than, "La luz in el bano no esta trabajando," which was actually a pretty important thing to be able to say for a about a week when the lights in the main bathroom weren't working and we had to direct people to the other bathroom.

But we had a visitor up from our Miami office. She speaks fluent but still faintly accented English and I just thought her voice was particularly sweet until I learned that Spanish is her first language. Whenever she comes to the office, she makes a point of of speaking to everyone in the building and some of the Spanish-only speaking workers take the opportunity to have her translate some of their issues.

One of the ladies that I know speaks English pretty well was talking to our Miami visitor. They were speaking in Spanish about PTO time and I turned back to work and stayed out of a conversation that was not exactly private, but certainly none of my business.

That's when hair-touching lady walked in. "Why are you two speaking in Spanish when I know both of you speak English?"

My stomach sank. I couldn't believe she actually asked  it out loud.

The look on our Miami visitor's face was hurt and appalled. I turned around sharply and her eyes met mine in that shared moment of, "Do you believe what she just said?" The worker from our own office didn't respond at all. I'm not sure she understood, or maybe she's just used to the attitude from whtie people that they really shouldn't be speaking Spanish.

I think at first Hair Toucher was serious, but I think she felt the shift in the room and threw on a smile as if we couldn't possibly take her words seriously. At that moment I spoke up. A beat too late, but still, I spoke up the first words I could think of.

"Because they can."

 I think that pretty much said it all. Our Miami visitor looked relieved that someone, anyone had responded to this idiocy. She continued her conversation, in Spanish, with the worker she was speaking with.

Hair Toucher went on her merry way, not really knowing or caring what she had done.

I really want to talk to her about these two incidents. From what I know about her, I think she can handle the evolution in thinking.

I hope.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Opposing the Cincinnati Streetcar: That Train of Thought Has Left the Station

 Until I came across this article on Twitter today, I had no idea that there were still people trying to get the Cincinnati streetcar project canceled? Really? They need to let it go already.

I say this as someone who is really against the streetcar project. It's just another toy to make life easier for the folks who are "gentrifying" downtown. "Gentrifying" is a word used here which means political speak for pushing poor black people out of a neighborhood to make way for rich white people.

Two years ago, Mayor Cranley officially announced the conclusion most of us had already drawn - that it would cost just as much to cancel the project as it would to go ahead and finish it given the time and money already invested. So we may as well build the thing and be done with it and that's what's happening.

A lot of people, myself included shrugged, popped some popcorn and waited for tales of shoddy management, cost overruns and construction delays. We've gotten that and more.

Right now the latest contention is that some folks took it upon themselves to have a study done for phase two of the project when phase one isn't sure to complete any time soon.

What's going completely unnoticed as usual is the lives of black people being rearranged for the convenience and pleasure of white people who demand their space, take it over and don't really give a damn about much else.

Even so, fighting the streetcar at this point is just stupid.

What this city really needs is light rail. And what the state of Ohio needs is to get the 3C Rail Project back on track. According to Wikipedia, the state funds for the project are still on hold. It's not the same as having the federal dollars John Kasich gave up because being a jerk to President Obama was more important than helping the people of Ohio, but it's a start.

But hey, why meet the needs of the working majority when you can cater to the rich and powerful few?