The Clothesline Muse

clotheslineWe were culture vultures the other day when Texas Tech brought “The Clothesline Muse” to a local stage and it was really a great experience. I’m not really a huge fan of modern dance having got nightmares from my early teenaged years of doing at school during PE. (“Look – Be a leaf in the wind!! Dance and move in the breeze!”) But this performance was not at all what I was expecting and I loved it.

It’s a multidisciplinary performance piece (and I say “performance piece” to sound arty, but another way to describe it could be a musical/dance/play/poetry mix which would still be accurate) – anyway, it’s an extremely polished well produced play (of sorts) which focuses on the relationship between a grandmother who is moving into an assisted living place and is being helped with the packing by her young granddaughter. As the boxes are packed, the granddaughter is struggling to meet her work deadlines at the same time (via phone/email), but as they eventually slow down the pace of packing, the elder woman starts to tell the younger stories of her long-ago youth. These stories cover the personal but also the political: emerging labor movement rights, African-American history, civil rights issues, women’s rights… All seen through the lens of the job of the grandmother which was a washerwoman, a laundress, and as the play continues, the play shows that there can be pride in the most menial of jobs.

This was a fantastic mélange of music and memory, of lithe young dancers doing impossible moves with their bodies and the slow stiff body of the aged, of songs giving voice to those who had none… I think I may sound a bit gushy here, but this play is good enough to be gushy about. The singers were fantastic – jazzy (without being annoyingly improvisational) and extremely good. Nnenna Freelong plays the lead role and she is an award-winning Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist and wrote the play. What was a great extra touch was that once the performance was over, the cast came out to the front of the stage and took questions and answers from the audience (who included high school as well as univ students). Such a great cast to take the time to add this educational component and very well received by the younger audience members.

The Clothesline Muse is touring the US right now, so you might want to check the listings to see if it’s coming close to where you are. I highly recommend it if you like music, plays, dance, issues-focused culture, or extremely good anything.

Loved it!

Things on Cowboy’s Head – No. 72

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 72: Whiskers food packet.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 72: Whiskers food packet.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (like Olympic-level). All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Snowflakes and Sequential Art…

LBB_snow

It’s been unusually snowy for the last few days here in West Texas, and since it is rather infrequent for our area, that means that workplaces tend to veer on the side of caution which, for me, meant a SNOW DAY for the entire university. I don’t know about you, but for us here, an entire snow day is almost unheard of and thus there was much rejoicing across the city when this news was announced very early that morning.

(And here I must beg understanding from those of you who have been piled under huge snow drifts for most of 2015. We probably only got about 4”-6” and some drifting but when you don’t get much, it’s Snowcalypse.)

And so these unexpected free hours have been spent wallowing in books (naturellement) and in graphic novels in particular. The library had had a graphic novel display last time that I had visited and there were quite a few titles that I hadn’t seen before and which looked interesting. And thus, the link between snowflakes and sequential art (another name for graphic novels, which, to be honest, seems like another name for grown-up comics – “grown-up” not in a naughty way but in a not-kid-like way.)

book340First up on the pile was a small book called “Midnight Sun” by Ben Towle (2007), a GN story that was based on a true historical event in 1928 when an Italian airship crashed in the Arctic on the way back from a trip to the North Pole (an event that I’d never heard of). The group of survivors was composed of men from European countries and theirs was a rather harrowing journey of survival (as were others around that time and before). I am not sure how much of the story was true (apart from the actual crash), but the story seemed pretty non-fiction without any magical realism elements in it and seeing as it featured snow in a starring role seemed an a propos title to start the read. Overall, this was ok but nothing too amazing.

book341Next was an English GN called “The Tale of One Bad Rat” by Bryan Talbot (1995), an author/artist who has done work with Neil Gaiman, another author out there. This title was more reality-based (but still fiction) that dealt with a young English woman who runs away from her home to escape ongoing childhood sexual abuse. So – not an easy read, but handled well. The protagonist has a pet rat that she rescued from her school lab and so they’re both on the run from horrible lives. Although this story ends in the way you’d expect it to, it was still a great read (despite the horrible issue) and was very well done. I thought Talbot nailed the slightly gritty side of England really well, and that was refreshing to see. So – this was a good one.

book342Third up was a GN titled “Country of Wolves” by Neil Christopher/Ramon Perez (2013) and this may have been good, but I didn’t get that far as it was far too scary for me. :-} It did come with a CD of the short animation film of the book, but again – too scary for this feeble creature.

And then I pulled out my old Raymond Briggs (UK author) but I’ll save those for another day.

book345And, to finish up, I really did read some comics as I happen to have a 1988 Dandy Annual (featuring old chestnuts like Desperate Dan and Korky the Cat) and which was actually groaningly humorous in places. We all three kids would get Saturday morning printed comic books of Beano, Dandy, and Beezer and there would be much sharing to make them last longer. (More of the explosions and accident humor of 1950s Tom and Jerry cartoons than the gentle comics of nowadays, and yet we survived to live the day…) :-)

This was a fun way to spend the day, and thanks to the Weather Gods for providing us with a nice snowy day.

 

Movie Talk…

 

movieWe’ve been watching a few movies lately and have fallen in love with the Alamo Theater (do go if you have one in your area – good fun). So, just to change things up, I thought I’d give a rundown of the movies that have crossed our eyes lately:

American_SniperAmerican Sniper - What to say? An interesting movie with a provocative message. Lots to think about on all sides of the issue.

 

 

 

 

 

boyhood

 

Boyhood – A movie that follows a 6-year old boy as he grows up over the next 12 years. Not a documentary, but could as well as have been. Loved how it showed how people evolved over time and yet they still found ways to stay together in a combination that worked for them. I thought that was a very optimistic message and it was good to watch a hopeful movie for a change.

 

 

 

paddington-posterPaddington the Bear – Yes, it’s a kids’ movie, but I happen to love Paddington so I went. I haven’t been to see a kids’ movie in years, and had forgotten what it was like to watch a movie with a theaterful of mostly under-8’s. (Very sweet and very similar to trying to follow a movie whilst sitting in a bucket of worms. Lots of fidgeting going on which I expected, but most kids were v. well behaved and just enthusiastic.) The movie – meh. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the best bits of the film. I think  it’s best to see if you’re a member of the under-8 crowd because they loved it.

 

Amira-And-SamAmira and Sam– Pretty under-the-radar indie film, but very good and really charming. (I was lucky to leave the cinema with my socks on!) This is the story of a U.S. soldier who returns to the U.S. from Iraq and tracks down his friend, an Iraqi interpreter who helped his unit when they were in the war zone. Meeting his old friend, he happens to meet the friend’s niece who was staying there, an Iraqi young woman who is trying not to get deported by the immigration authorities. What follows on from that is a very good story of how their relationship develops. With an open Po-Mo ending, this was one of my favorite films I’ve seen this year and would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a really good film about just two fairly normal people who want to have a happy ending. No bombs, no explosions (apart from a brief bit in Iraq), and a healthy relationship with a good sense of humor. Loved it. (Good date movie if you’re looking for one that everyone will probably like.)

And then we’re back to books…

Swabbing the Decks…

 

swab_decks

Life has been a bit busy, and so, in an effort to get up to date, I’ve put together a few mini-reviews of what I’ve been reading – all good titles, but for one reason or another (usually time-related), I haven’t put together a long in-depth post for each of them.

book338Packing for Mars – Mary Roach (2010)

A fun reread piggybacked on to my read of Chris Hadfield’s astronaut guide (and in fact, Roach referred to Hadfield every now and then which I thought was interesting.) Roach’s was a good read as she delves into such random details about the space program and which NASA probably doesn’t want to address in any formal way.

Mars is 400M miles away so it takes years of packing and planning and training for any successful trip, and Roach dives down the different rabbit holes that come up during the course of that preparation. From what to eat in space to how your body changes in long-term assignments at the International Space Station, it’s all here. What do you do when you are in such close quarters with your other team members and there is no getting away when they’re bugging you to an extreme? How do you go to the bathroom when you’re up there? What is it like to be back on Earth and facing gravity after six months of floating around without? All each disparate topic seems to flow naturally from one to the next due to Roach’s careful structural writing.

Worf from Star Trek - an homage?

Worf from Star Trek – an homage?

One random note that I made concerned Star Trek and Worf (played by Michael Dorn), one of the Romulan characters on that show. Roach mentions that there really was a space food scientist called D. L. Worf. Nice guy if a bit nutty (he suggested that astronauts could eat specially treated paper for nutrition.) Additionally, he suggested using edible materials to make parts of the space shuttle (e.g. using sugar for the windows) and then astronauts would not have to worry about taking food to space with them, but could merely snap off a bit of the space shuttle for a nibble every now and then. (Worf was more about the nutritional content than the taste and texture, methinks.)

And I think that the Star Trek writers were doing a quick homage to earlier space researchers when they used the name Worf for this character. Hmm. Makes you wonder what else you’re missing in the series, doesn’t it?

Roach is insatiably curious and as tenacious as a bulldog in following a topic through to its resolution. And yet she seems so charming and I would love to know her in real life. (We saw her give a talk on campus one year – she was fascinating and very approachable.) So – basically, I am one of Mary Roach’s biggest fans and thoroughly enjoyed this read.

book337The Victorian Hospital – Lavinia Mitton (2002)

This was bought when we visited London’s Hunterian Museum (a medical museum linked with the Royal College of Surgeons), except this slim volume focused on various aspects of hospital and medical history during the Victorian era. I found it very interesting and took loads of notes, but reading over them now, I think they are fascinating only to a very small audience so I won’t force you to read them. Suffice to say that hospitals have come a long way since they were called “Gateways to Death.”

 

The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker (1986) book331

This was more of an experimental novel (more a novella) which describes in excruciating (but strangely fascinating) detail what the protagonist is thinking about as he returns from his lunch break and rides the escalator back to his office. The entire book occurs between him entering the office building after lunch and getting on the bottom of the moving staircase, and ends when he reaches his office desk on the second floor. Loaded with footnotes that get lengthier as the book proceeds, this is not a book for the faint-hearted (experimental-wise). However, I enjoyed it. I looked into Baker’s backlist, but it seems that he veered into the XXX-rated side of stories after this one. Maybe I’ll just stay with this title. :-)

Things on Cowboy’s Head – No. 71

Things on Cowboy's Head. No.71: Pine cone.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No.71: Pine cone.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (like Olympic-level). All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

March: Part Two – John Lewis/Nate Powell (2015)

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After having read and really enjoyed March: Part One, I ILL’d Part Two which was only recently published this year. This book covered the civil rights battle just after it had started with the student restaurant counter sit-ins and other forms of non-violent protest. (The movement with which John Lewis is closely associated with aligns very strongly with Ghandian principles of non-violence to achieve change. I’m sorry to say that not everyone followed the same set of principles at times.)

The narrative is structured with a back-and-forth in time between the burgeoning civil rights protest movement and the ceremony where Barack Obama was sworn in to be U.S. President in 2009. This was a good way to contrast how far the movement had gone since its early days so as the reader jumped between 2009 and back to the 1960s, there was no denying just how hard the protestors had worked to get recognized.

The battle’s early years were marked mostly with points of action spread across a few states at fairly random intervals and only vaguely connected. The later years show a much more cohesive movement, with by-laws and official leadership and meeting with state and national officials.

They were also marked by a much more vicious response from the whites who were threatened by the uprising and who, in response, chose violence. The black and white graphics in this book are an ideal medium to show this – violence can be very black and white when you’re in the middle of a passionate and important battle – and when I was reading this, there were moments when I was holding my breath with a racing heart as I saw how horrible people were to each other.

It’s impossible for me to relate to how members of the Ku Klux Klan reacted during this time. What was possibly going to happen to them if the African-American population got the vote that justified this level of vitriolic hate? I know that there are a lot of history, cultural subtexts, and social constraints to consider, but it seems so far out of my view that anyone would hate someone else enough to do these heinous acts that it’s very difficult for me to understand.

And, curiously for me, it only happened a few years ago really. I was born in 1963 in England, and it was around this time (just a few months earlier) that the March on Washington, MLK Jr. , and the race riots were in full swing in the southern states. It was in my lifetime, and yet it seems so far away when people talk about it. Black and white photos, old model cars, and unforgivable behavior.

And then I remember the bravery of the Freedom Riders who rode buses to bring desegregation to the rural areas of Mississippi and Georgia, the courage of the young men and women of both races who stood up in the face of hate, and who, honestly, risked their lives to right this wrong. I remember the ordinary men and women who registered African-Americans for voting privileges, and both the Kennedys (Jack and John) for playing leadership roles in getting this fight sorted out in the most morally correct way. And how we now have an African-American President here. All most amazing really when you think about it.

Learning more about the African-American experience in the U.S. has been eye-opening. If these violent events happened in your lifetime (or that of your parents and grandparents), I can understand how hard it must be trust white people a lot of the time (on a large scale). There have been years of evidence that reflect how slightly the White Establishment regarded a huge part of their own population, and so when viewed through that lens, Ferguson, the L.A. riots and others are not so surprising.

However, then you look back at the Ghandian principles that the original Freedom Riders followed, of non-violence, of peaceful protest, and then wonder how did it all go so wrong sometimes?

Oh well. One can dream.

(Part of JOMP’s Black History Month recognition.)

black-history-month_2

 

Victory (of sorts)…

patontheback

I must say that, although I am doing my own patting on the back, I did have a kind of victory the other day. What was it, you ask? The library had a half-price book sale (half-price!) and guess what – I didn’t go.

I did spend all day thinking about going to it and then stopping myself, but the end result was I didn’t attend. And I didn’t attend because, frankly, I have enough books at the moment and if I collect any more, then it will be overboard.

However, I must insert one caveat here. (There’s always one, isn’t there?) The day before the book sale, I had gone into a new thrift shop (a giant cavernous one) and maybe – perhaps – possibly bought a book or six. (You see – I’m not that much of a Book Angel after all!) Someone had obviously just gone through their bookshelves, and heavens to Betsey if there weren’t some choice titles there.

I had to get them. You know – because…

Thrift Shop Glory - February 2015.

Thrift Shop Glory – February 2015.

And so in the top photo, bottom to top, is what happened to slip into my bag and into my home that day:

  • The Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby (love his book columns from the Believer mag) (NF)
  • Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States – Hector Tobar (NF)
  • Brighton Beach Memoirs – Neil Simon (wanted to read a play)
  • The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island – Linda Greenlaw (NF)
  • The First Rumpole Omnibus – John Mortimer (F) (Iove him)
  • Girl with the Green Eyes – Edna O’Brien (F) – looks like gritty Irish fiction which I’m interested in reading

So – some good titles added to the burgeoning TBR shelf for future reads. Hooray for thrift shops!

Brown Girl, Brownstones – Paule Marshall (1959)

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“Unlike Chauncey Street, Fulton Street on this summer Saturday night was a swirling spectrum of neon signs, movie marquees, bright-lit store windows and sweeping yellow streamers of light from the cars…”

“Brown Girl, Brownstones” is a title that has been on my shelf of Viragoes for years (and that’s not hyperbole there), and as part of this month’s African-American History Month celebration, I picked it up. (I’d also just finished a collection of short stories by Marshall last week and I’d loved that read.)

Paule Marshall.

Paule Marshall.

And this read was the same level of literary excellence that I’d been hoping for after that short story collection. Marshall continues with her high level of wordsmithing here in this bildungsroman of a young immigrant child whose family are first-generation arrivals from Barbados living in early 20th century NYC. Historically speaking, after having dealt (and lived) with years of servitude, there was a wave of Barbadians (or Bajans as they’re called in this novel) who immigrated to New York hoping for a better life. New York was, at that times, called the “City of the Almighty Dollar” among this group, and all who arrived there came with dreams of big money and big success. They were literate, ambitious, and business-minded, and considered themselves as separate from the African-American population for the most part. They were Bajans.

So – to the story itself. As mentioned, it’s a coming of age novel set in Brooklyn in this immigrant neighborhood. The protagonist is Selina Boyce, a girl of twelve when the novel begins and whose parents are complete opposites of each other. The father is a dream-large layabout who talks big without following through on the action whilst her mother (always referred to as “the” mother to emphasize the distance between them) is a reality-based ambitious hard worker who has to provide the money for the bread and butter and the board for the family. Selina grudgingly admires her mother, but her father she views as “Christ-like” as the mother points out in one paragraph. Selina admires her father enough to side with him in the many family arguments that arise, and so she often defends her father’s ways in opposition of her mother who is faced with paying for the daily bread and board.

Over the years, Selina is smart in school and grows up with dreams of being a dancer. She also falls in love with a man who is older and who is, incidentally, very like her father in that he has half-baked dreams of being a successful artist but doesn’t have the wherewithal to make that actually happen. So, young Selina is torn in terms of who she wants to be: should she model herself after her father and his pie-in-the-sky ways, or after her mother who is more down-to-earth and realistic?

It’s this dichotomy which runs its thread through this novel. Selina can see that her father is not going to achieve much, but still – she admires his dreams of freedom and success and strongly identifies with him. Her mother, on the other hand — Selina can’t ignore her skills and her own dreams of being a successful independent business owner. And so Selina has to learn to decide her own future – does she have to choose one parent over another or is there another way?

This was written entirely in dialect which made it a slow read at first, but once I got the hang of it, I could hear it in my head and really enjoyed the novel. Marshall is a superb writer, and this was a good read for Black History Month.

(Part of JOMP’s Black History Month recognition.)

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