My Storied January, Part 2


A bee. A key. A sword. Several months ago, those images began filling my Twitter and Instagram feeds. I knew what they heralded and was practically beside myself with each new post and peek. I had been waiting for eight years for a new world from Erin Morgenstern to step sideways into, ever since I was so exquisitely enthralled, ensorcelled, and enraptured by The Night Circus. I have never recommended or passed on a book as often as I have that one. And The Starless Sea was no disappointment. A story molded and folded, fitted and tide-locked with other the stories within it. Stories that mix and mingle and connect and rend. When I first received this beautiful book, it took me several weeks to read even 70 pages. That was agony for me. When all I wanted to do was to dive in and devour it, I was being forced to savor it. I found it creeping into my days, my dreams, my daily drive (thank you, monthly Audible credit!), and even my work. I used it as an example entry for my 8th-grade students’ silent reading journals. 

Photo by The Ridgefield Press

Needless to say, I tumbled into a world of keys and swords and books, of Doors and bees and stories. I will not claim to understand everything…yet. It will no doubt take several readings and listenings to unravel all the paths and side-quests and cues within the gorgeous labyrinth held between these gold-embossed black covers. There are lines that still linger in my mind, lines that I have quoted and enigmatically posted. Lines that wrap themselves around my wrists and elbows like golden ribbons, words dangling from my fingertips like keys and glowing in my chest like embers. Morgenstern has not disappointed in any sense; once again her world-weaving has carried me off over golden waves.

My fictional world is, as it seems, full of books and Doors and stories right now. I am chasing after books come alive in A.J. Hackwith’s The Library of the Unwritten and running headlong through ten-thousand Doors in the most gorgeous epic by Alix E. Harrow (The Ten Thousand Doors of January). To my delight, I am led and shepherded everywhere I look in these tales by characters of color. I am also seeing bits and pieces of myself spread out among them. A hero with eyesight as bad as my own. A Librarian with locs and a fierceness to match the angelic host themselves. A girl with mocha skin and a bronze-furred dog. Her friend with a body the color of coffee who would be perfect standing side by side with the Librarian in battle. Zachariah, Claire, January, Bad, Jane. I marvel at finding myself surrounded by these characters, taken by the hands and led–sometimes thrown–through their adventures, failures, discoveries, and downfalls. It is intense. It is emotional. It is fascinating. It is painful. And every second is worth it.

This is my storied January indeed, and I am loving it!

My Storied January, Part 1


This has been, thus far, a storied January. In the space of the past two weeks, I have been filled to the proverbial brim by two of the most glorious tales, thus my “storied” January. I will begin here with tale the first.

On a recent, rare, free Sunday, I took myself on a date to the movies, alone, to finally dive deep into a childhood love. I settled myself into my seat and nervously waited through the previews (which I usually enjoy but that day they only tortured me by prolonging the excitement) for the beginning of Greta Gerwig’s long-anticipated adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Finally, with a flash of a red leather cover (reminiscent of Dickens’ first edition of A Christmas Carol), the title and author embossed in gold, I was dropped in behind Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March as she paused before the door to the Daily Volcano Press and the imposing Mr. Dashwood. And so it began.

For the next two hours and fifteen minutes, I cried, chided, laughed, fumed, and rejoiced, enthralled to be once again in the world of March Sisters and their beloved friends and family. I was alternately charmed by and incensed at Theodore Laurence, my darling Laurie, played so beautifully by the compelling Timothee Chalamet. And, in my aged prime of almost thirty-seven years, I am more certain than ever of Jo’s wisdom in turning him down. (The fact that I married my own teacher of German, as Jo married her sweet German professor, has absolutely nothing to do with this, by the way.) Jo’s lioness-fierce, protective love for her darling Beth was every bit as moving as it has always been, as was Beth’s own deep, unabashed love for her family and her abiding shyness, which made one want to fight off anyone who would dare to distress her dear, sweet self.

Emma Watson’s Meg was so honest that I adored her to new depths, a great surprise as Meg has never been a favorite character of mine. The struggles she faced between her desire for delicate, pretty things, the oft-harsh reality of her circumstances, and a bone-deep yearning to be content and good were so poignant and real and quintessentially Alcott that I was thrilled to my core. I could practically see Polly from An Old-Fashioned Girl detaching herself from Meg’s inspired skirts to embark on her own stories and struggles along that similar path. I love Watson’s emotional range and the genuineness of feeling that she brought to Meg’s internal struggle. 

I left the movie theater glowing, though a pinprick of disappointment was there. Disappointment that I hadn’t carved out the time to take my own Marmee with me to see this film when she visited for Christmas. 

(Never fear, Marmee! I shall buy it and we shall cuddle up with kettle corn and blankets and tissues together when you visit later this year.) 

This is the first story in which I have gloried this January. It made my heart so very, very full, that time alone with this beloved tale. Not two days later, I found myself hovering over the end of another beautiful story, excited yet chagrined to turn the last few pages.  But that is a story for another day and another post. (Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long.)

Succumbing to the Beat


So. It has finally happened. I have succumbed to the beat. I have been enthralled by the story lived out in music. I have been captured by history dusted off, shined up, and with new life breathed into it.

Yes, I am talking about Hamilton. After seeing the company’s performance at this year’s Tony Awards, I am officially a Hamilton fan. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music is amazing and has swayed even my heart, which has never really been drawn to hip-hop as a first choice. I have listened to the soundtrack in bits and pieces, thanks to Pandora, and I have just finished on my first full run-through of the cast recording as I post this.

I must admit that I am drawn hard to the story/triangle of Alexander Hamilton, his wife Eliza Schuyler, and her

Hamilton

Left to right – Renee Elise Goldsberry: Angelica Schuyler, Lin-Manuel Miranda: Alexander Hamilton, Christopher Jackson: George Washington, and Philippa Soo: Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. Photo credit: Tyranny of Style

elder sister Angelica. The ladies’ main songs: “The Schuyler Sisters”, “Helpless”, “Satisfied”, “Take a Break”, and “Burn” tell a story of hardships and the pulls between head and heart, the decisions that are so difficult to make but that we make because we think them the best ones for our families, and even the selfishness of human emotion and ambition and its effects on those we love. Angelica’s introduction of Hamilton to Eliza–who is previously established as struck “helpless” by the familyless, penniless revolutionary–not only kept Angelica free, as the eldest, to seek her fortune through marriage but, as she points out, “At least I keep his eyes in my life.” But the drama doesn’t end there, believe me. Human lives are never devoid of such, after all. Act II will break your heart, by the by. I’m talking tears and tissues, people. As a friend recommended, don’t be driving (or really doing anything else) while you’re listening to Act II. Act I will make you dance. Act II will bring all the feels, break your heart, melt it back together, and shatter it all over again.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s excellent song sets, lyrics, and composition beautifully tell this story of a “young, scrappy, and hungry” revolutionary and his contemporaries but also paint him as an ambitious and very flawed man. Eager to rise up from his obscure, tragic beginnings and make a mark upon the world, Hamilton takes his shot, often making his said shot, but also makes mistakes–grievous, damaging mistakes–as well as powerful moves in the development of this newborn country and has to live with the consequences of those mistakes, moves, and decisions, both in his professional life as well as his private one. Miranda has a way of writing conversational lyrics that flow almost like honey. Not thick or cumbersome but well-formed, belonging together, and intentional. They also beat and burst through your chest with anger, fire, frustration, passion, determination, courage, fear, and defeat. Every emotion on the spectrum is touched on and poured out in the cast’s voices and performance as they wend their way through Hamilton’s story and those of the lives of those he touched. As he lives and dies and they tell his story.

I am thoroughly enthralled, happily seduced by a new (old) story soaring in a tornado of music. I am so excited that people, especially young adults and children, are becoming so passionate about this show and the history that it represents and presents, as well as the

 

17-lin-manuel-miranda.w529.h529

Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator, portraying the titular character in Hamilton.

ceilings and barriers that it shatters in encouraging young actors and actresses to pursue whatever parts their hearts lead them to. I can only hope that I will have the privilege of seeing this fantastic show in person on its tour some day soon.

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me. *puts my earbuds in and presses PLAY*

Searching for a little balance


Quotes from chapter 2 of The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You, by Jessica N. Turner:

“When we live using our God-given talents and passions, I believe we are pleasing him and more fully living the life we were born to live.”

“In our mess, God makes us strong. In your glorious imperfection, you can still shine beautifully bright. Embrace that truth. Stop trying to be everything for everyone and start investing in who and what really matters.” (Emphasis mine)

I have always felt the need to be everything for everyone (or what everyone expects) and to be excellent at it, what’s more. Still do at times, to be perfectly honest. I am trying to better learn and practice self-care. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about everyone. It just means I care about myself, too. I know the burnout that comes from stretching too thin or giving so much outside of me that there’s nothing left for me – time, emotion, thought, etc. I’m endeavoring to find that precious balance and this book is very encouraging this far. ^_^

Film Review: “Belle”


This is my latest article published by the wonderful ladies at The Well Written Woman:

I have long awaited this film. When the movie opened in 2013, it was showing nowhere near where I lived except in a small art-house theater, which I didn’t realize until after it had already closed. My wonderful husband bought it for me for Christmas, however, and I am only now getting around to watching it. Belle is inspired by the 1779 painting of a young mixed-race woman seated with her cousin, identified as the Lady Elizabeth Murray. It is brilliantly cast, sumptuously costumed, and emotionally charged.

Belle_posterDido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay was born of a nobleman and a slave of whom little is known. The story this film tells is that of Dido as she and her cousin begin the fraught journey into society and marriage and finding their place in the world. For Dido, it is compounded by her uncle/adoptive father’s soon-coming decision in the case of the Zong massacre, which, as passionate young lawyer-to-be Mr. Davinier asserts, could pave the way for a very change in law regarding slavery and its abolition.

Something that struck me deeply was a scene at an early segment of the film, after Dido has learned of a public (and highly publicized) case before the Supreme Court in which the captain of a ship, the Zong, is trying to gain payment from his insurers for a cargo of slaves whom he threw overboard. Dido sits before her toilette table, looking at herself in the mirrors, crying, she begins to rub and scratch at her skin as if she might rub away her mocha color.

As a black woman myself, I have never found myself to be in a position of crying over my skin. I admit, as a child, I wished for fair skin and blonde hair, to be considered beautiful by boys, yes, but also in general, outside of the familial good opinion of my parents. But I have never felt so disregarded, so disdained for naught more than my coloring that I have ever actually wept over being who I am. To picture myself in such a position seems beyond the realm of even my imagination. For the record, though, that particular instance is the only memory I have of feeling that particular inferiority.

Dido’s reaction strikes me as nothing short of realistic, however, having grown up with her family to whom her color meant nothing personally but who, when faced with the society of which they were a part, were still bound by the classist and racist mores and rules that kept her a veritable secret and then an object of amusement and scorn.

Dido faces a gauntlet on many sides, venom, fascination, and sideshow curiosity layered beneath social politesse, but no less obvious to all who witness it. She states at one point to Mr. Davinier that she is struck by the thought that she is free twice over – free from slavery and free from poverty, having inherited her father’s fortune upon his death. She is a woman of independent means and, therefore, most would say, given the freedom to marry where she pleases. Even so, Dido struggles to find the freedom to just be – to be herself and all that means without apology and to accept herself without shame. And so Dido searches and fights and argues for justice as her father prepares to render his decision in the Zong case.

I was pleased with the fire that Gugu Mbatha-Raw brought to the character of Dido, a young woman raised with all the knowledge, propriety, and breeding of her rank and determined to live the life she deserved regardless of how others might regard her for the color of her skin. The cast is all talent as she is joined by Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Sam Reid, Matthew Goode, Tom Felton, and Emily Watson. This film is an enjoyable period piece with strong undertones of social consciousness and justice and stood as an excellent precursor to the next film on my docket: 12 Years a Slave.

Postscript: There is more information about the true story to be found here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/10863078/Dido-Belle-Britains-first-black-aristocrat.html

Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman


3/12/2015 – I have read several of Neil’s short stories before and really enjoyed them. My husband is an avid fan of some of his novels. So, when I spied this new collection at the bookstore, I immediately grabbed it up as a gift to myself after a long week.

I am always intrigued by Gaiman’s writing and, moreover, of his thought processes as a writer and the introduction alone to this collection of stories is a thing of beauty.

We build the stories in our heads. We take words, and we give them power, and we look out through other eyes, and we see, and exprience, what others see. I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, Should they be safe places? (page xiii)

Many of the most profound stories I have read have encited some of the most intense emotional reactions in me – anger at injustice, tears, worry, fear, joy, etc. – and many of them, I have read time and time again. I chose to skip Gaiman’s words about the individual stories that he has included in this collection; I shall come back to them after I have read the tales.

So far, I am through the first two pieces, “Making a Chair” and “A Lunar Labyrinth”. The first, in my mind, stands as an introduction to the collection and the idea of “trigger warnings”:

Making a book is a little like making a chair./Perhaps it out to come with warnings,/like the chair instructions./A folded piece of paper slipped into each copy,/warning us:/”Only for one person at a time.”/”Do not use as a stool or a stepladder.”/”Failure to follow these warnings can result in serious injury.”

More to come! ^_^

 

Stepping Out of Middle Earth


Yesterday evening, I went with my husband to witness something very, very close to my heart: the closing of Middle Earth. Thirteen years ago this month, I was taken to the movies by dear friends, to watch “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”, and, honestly, I had no idea what I was getting into, storywise. Not really. I had begun reading The Fellowship of the Ring a little before those but had gotten busy with my sophomore year of college and set it aside for the time being. Now, after having dress-rehearsed all morning for my first performance on the SCF/Kappa Chi team for the Musical Madness competition, I gathered with those friends to see this film. Needless to say, I was seized, captured, and enthralled.

For the next two years, it became tradition for me to treat my friends to the midnight showing of each subsequent chapter of the Lord of the Rings as a Christmas gift, before we all parted ways for the holidays. I cannot tell you the fun of those nights, going out to dinner with my friends and then getting to the theatre early to garner good seats together. Then, each time, I would lose myself in Middle Earth, travelling on this harrowing adventure with Hobbit, Elf, Wizard, and Man.

In the thirteen years since seeing FOTR, I have devoured the books as well as The SilmarillionThe Books of Lost Tales, and written a collection of my own Tolkien tales. I learned a great deal from an excellent professor who is also a great lover of Tolkien. I learned to speak Sindarin Elvish (memorization and transliteration until it rolled off my tongue, sang in Rohirric, and had two papers published. When I saw that Peter Jackson as extending his movie magic to The Hobbit, I rejoiced. An Unexpected Journey was the first movie I watched with my newborn daughter and, now, my husband and I seized the opportunity (and the kindness of his parents) to close out the Red Book together. At the end, as Billy Boyd sang “The Last Goodbye” and Alan Lee’s beautiful drawings scrolled over the screen, I sat and sobbed. My husband was, admittedly, a little incredulous, but I begged him to let me have my moment for tears.

I grieved for the characters lost, for the pain endured, but I also wept for the ending of an era, for the closing not only of the Red Book but for that chapter of my life. There is now a banking of that fiery passion that burned so hotly for those years, a calm moving on (like Bilbo’s returning to Bag End and carrying on his life). The memories attached to Middle Earth, though, its world, people, and stories, will never fade but, I believe, will only shine brighter as the days and years go by. I cannot thank enough those who fostered this love in me, encouraged it, and rejoiced in the fruit it produced. Thank you, all of you, for all that you have done and given to me – from the writer himself, to the family that carries on his legacy, to the director determined to bring these stories to life, the writers who tenderly took Tolkien’s work in hand, and the actors who gave the characters breath and soul. To these last, I will never look at any of you ever again but that I will also see the characters who have become so beloved to me, see the emotion shimmering in your eyes and trembling on your lips, and feel the strength of your hearts. Thank you!

It was the closing of the Red Book, the ending of an era, and the tearful goodbye of a grateful heart that feels like a Hobbit, writes like an Elf, is fallible like Man, hopeful as a Wizard, and staunch as a Dwarf. You have my love and my eternal thanks. Hannon le. Amin mela le.

Book Review: Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce


83067256-20-14 – Finally and at long last! Ever since reading Pierce’s Melting Stones several years ago, I have hungered for more of Evumeimei Dingzai’s story. I really should have read Stone Magic, as it currently sits on my shelf, the beginning of her story in that she was discovered by Briar, but I shall simply chalk it up to working backwards through Evvy’s trilogy. Now, at last, I have Battle Magic, the story of the war between Yanjing and Gyongxe that is so often referenced in Melting Stones.

Battle Magic was my birthday gift from my husband and I have fallen in love with Pierce’s writing all over again, devouring more than half the book in only two days of reading. I know, I know, it’s pittance to my old reading habits but, believe me, that’s saying a LOT in these days of an active eighteen-month-old girl. 🙂

The newest character to me from these books is undoubtedly Briar Mos, the one who discovered Evumeimei and her ability first of all in Stone Magic and the mage who discovers the power is the mage who must train the power. Briar, at the tender age of sixteen, is a fully-certified mage under the Winding Circle Temple. I greatly enjoy the relationship between Briar and his mentor Rosethorn, about whom I know as little, having not read The Circle Opens quartet, nor far enough into The Will of the Empress to know her very well. She is very interesting to me, though, and I have a feeling that I will be expanding my Pierce collection even more after I finish Battle Magic and Stone Magic.

And Luvo! I can’t really say more than that but….squee!!! Luvo! That moment alone made me hug my Kindle as I read on the plane.

I shall return with updates soon!

9-26-14 – I LOVED this book! I finished it a few days ago and actually hugged the book when I was through with it. The first book I have actually finished in about a year or so and I regretted that it was over, though that means that I can now move on to Stone Magic, the beginning of Evvy’s story, which is awesome. Thank you, Tamora, for telling us this story. It was well worth the wait. ^_^

TV Show Review: The Paradise, Series 1


paradise_soundtrack_600Upon my husband suggestion, a few days ago, I embarked upon a new show: BBC’s The Paradise. Based upon Emile Zola’s novel The Ladies’ Paradise, it follows a young woman named Denise Lovett who comes to the big city to work in her uncle’s drapery shop. Unfortunately, business is so poor that he cannot offer her a wage. The singular shops along Tollgate Street – the draper (dressmaker), milliner, haberdasher, cobbler – are falling into ruin because of The Paradise, a great new department store which has opened in Tollgate street and is attracting all the customers.

Worried by the fact that her uncle cannot offer her a place, Denise is fortunate enough to spy a shop girl being evicted from the premises that very morning. She applies and is taken on as the newest shopgirl in Ladieswear at The Paradise. Denise Lovett proves more than equal to the task, even under the most imperious Miss Ashley, who rules over the department with an elegantly iron fist. Denise is talented and a visionary when it comes to selling clothing to upscale ladies, marketing, and getting the name of the Paradise into the ears of the populace. The most apt line for series 1, in my opinion, was this small statement: “I don’t want to marry Moray. I want to be him.” The passion for The Paradise has caught Denise as  soon as the story begins.

As we go, we meet the people who are the life and blood of The Paradise – Mr. John Moray, his partner Mr. Dudley, Pauline, Sam, Clara, Miss Audrey, Arthur, Mr. Jonas, and Mr. Lovett in his drapery shop across the street, along with Lord Glendenning (an upper class) and his grasping daughter Lady Katherine,with whom Mr. Moray is entangled from the first we see him.

As with all of BBC’s period dramas, The Paradise is sumptuously costumed and gorgeously set. The realm of Ladieswear and the glittering counters of The Paradise draw even me, a woman who has grown up in the normalcy of the department store. The gowns, gloves, and hats call to the Victorian woman that inhabits my soul, and she rejoices.  I am as of yet unsure how I feel about the end of series 1. It does end on a happy note, but with that sense that it is that burst of sunlight just before the storm clouds roll in.

Series 2 releases in late April so we shall see if my gut holds true.

TV Review: The Borgias


I know the show ended a few years ago but I also cancelled my cable a few years ago so I had to wait until seasons 2 and 3 of Showtime’s “The Borgias”, starring Jeremy Irons and Holliday Granger as the fabled Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander Sextus) and his daughter Lucrezia, came to Netflix. The show chronicles the rise of the Borgia family as Rodrigo buys and promises his way to an election after the death of Pope Innocent. He is followed in this rise by his three illegitimate children by former courtesan and lover Vannozza dei Cattanei: Juan, Cesare, and Lucrezia. A fourth child, Gioffre, dies of the sweating sickness in the first season.  As Rodrigo takes the throne of St. Peter’s and elevates his children with him (Juan to head of the Papal army and Cesare to Cardinal), he begins to work to build a last legacy of Borgia. He takes a new mistress, the legendary La Bella, Giulia Farnese – a woman as intelligent as she was beautiful. Cesare, unsatisfied with his brother’s inept martial abilities, decide to take his family’s protection and honor in hand and he does so by acquiring the skills of a man originally hired to assassinate his father, one Micheletto Corella.

Micheletto Corella, God’s own assassin

Now, here’s the interesting part. Micheletto, an assassin, a nobody, became my absolute favorite character in the show. Of course, Micheletto’s convincing line to Cesare is “Someone as pitiless as you needs someone as pitiless as me”. And so he becomes God’s own assassin, meting out death and pain in equal measure where necessary. A skilled student in the art of death, we find out that Micheletto is from Forli, kingdom of the infamous Catherina Sforza. He has ties there, secrets. Micheletto is a man of many secrets and ever so many more burdens upon his soul, though he would exhort the opposite. He becomes instrumental to many a Borgia plot and the jinn to grant even many a Borgia wish. He is indelibly complex, even though he seems pretty straight-forward and cruel. He is an assassin, after all. But he is a clever man with untold skills and an eidetic memory. We never find out all of his story. He gives you one or two details about a situation and keeps the rest forever for himself. I’m fascinated by him. And, what’s more, I feel for him, all the time! When he left in the middle of season 3, I have rarely been so upset about the departure of a character or as elated as when he returned for ONE scene later on in the season.

I was disappointed with the show’s end but even more with how it ended. I know that television shows do not have an option when they are cancelled but events had been set in motion with that final episode of season 3 that left one’s stomach in a lurch and disappointed that they would never come to fruition. Jeremy Irons was not as diabolical as I am perhaps used to seeing him but he portrayed the conflicted Rodrigo Borgia – a man who desired to be of faith but was always a slave to ambition – as well as I have ever seen him played. All in all, however, “The Borgias” was enjoyable, beautifully set and costumed, and the actors portrayed their characters just as I would have wanted.