Friday, November 30, 2012

Beautiful cover art!

I'm a bit behind the times here, but I just saw that Weave Magazine has posted the cover art for their next issue. I'm extremely lucky to be included in the contributors for Issue 08 and can't believe how gorgeous the art is! This lovely lady will be available Jan 2013. Mark your calendars!

Times like these I wish I was a poet

This morning the bus driver had an altercation with a young woman. I couldn't hear what they were discussing, but she seemed to be asking for some sort of apology. Their voices rose, he kept the bus idling at the green light, and soon everyone on the bus was looking at them. Then she got off and, as we pulled away, I saw her hands covering her face as she sobbed.

Another woman on the bus gently told the bus driver, "You know, sometimes you just have to say, 'I'm sorry. Have a nice day.'" This sparked a lively debate between that woman and another rider, which lasted a few heated blocks until they all got off. All along, the woman staunchly defended the weeping lady - just because her feelings had been hurt.

I wish I could have told the young woman what had happened once the bus pulled away. She stood on the curb sobbing, brushing the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand like a lost child. That was the start to her day. She'll never know that half the bus looked on in sympathy as we pulled away, and that a brave woman defended her. All she had was the confusion and hurt.

It's a small thing, that woman's unconsoled pain. I know that. But still, the world seemed just a little out of balance when the consolation, the empathy she seemed to need, drove away without her knowing it. That's what poetry is for, I think. To try to nudge the world back into balance by snatching at those sparks of life that we might otherwise miss and breathing them into flame for us to see. I wish I could give that woman a poem.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream

A little bit of fairy dust can go a long way. The Shakespeare Theatre's latest rendering of the classic A Midsummer Night's Dream is full of magic, and the audience, like the lost lovers of the play, is better off for being caught in that star-dusted wood. This iteration is staged on, well, an old dusty stage, reminding us that not only is there a play within a play, but that all of life's adventures can be seen as theatre. When we dress, what costumes are we putting on? And when we love, what roles are we playing? The message is not intended to accuse us of artifice, but rather to suggest that life is a role, and we play it as best we can. It was a beautiful production, and if you're in the DC area, I strongly recommend it!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

I can't even attempt to be measured in this review. I LOVED this book. Loved it so much that when I was finished reading I walked around hugging it to my chest, like a toddler with her teddy bear. Loved it so much that I was trembling as I read the final pages. Loved it so much that I will have to buy the hardcover edition so I have a more permanent record.

The novel is the story of Dutchman Jacob de Zoet, a Dutch East Indies clerk at the turn of the 19th century. Jacob travels to the Dutch trading enclave off the coast of Nagasaki, at a time when Japan is still closed to foreigners and deeply protective of its isolation. We know, from the vantage point of the 21st century, that Japan's sealed borders will not last more than another half century, but at the time, the country is struggling to balance the temptation of trade with the fear of change. Jacob is, in a way, a bridge between those two tendencies - an honorable representative of one of the world's most powerful commercial enterprises, and a sympathetic force for transformation, however private and localized those changes may appear to be.

Jacob's story starts off slowly. He has been sent to Japan to clean up the Company's books, or so we are told. But as he finds himself immersed in the politics of both the Company and, gradually, Nagasaki, his story takes on greater menace and import. Ultimately, Jacob finds himself confronted with an evil that is nearly incomprehensible. But his desire to counter that evil is shackled by the limitations of a closed Japan and the multiple competing dangers facing Jacob and his friends.

The story is gripping and, most importantly, tremendously moving and thought-provoking. There are a lot of characters and the story is not for inattentive readers. But those willing to stick around will be amply rewarded. The only other thing I can do from here is to gush, so I'll close by saying that David Mitchell exceeded my expectations and then blew me out of the water with his beautiful writing and humane, complicated characters.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

John Saturnall's Feast, by Lawrence Norfolk

In this abundant age, eating has, perhaps, never been more fraught with meaning. Local or organic? Meat or vegetable? Head-to-tail or choice cuts? On a molecular level, we are what we eat, but there is now more to it than that. Ethical and even spiritual paths are open to us: we can eat how we live.

Lawrence Norfolk's latest novel might appear to be a run-of-the-mill upstairs-downstairs romance girded with the agony of superstition and bigotry. But he elevates John Saturnall's Feast, a seventeenth century tale, with a sprinkling of food mysticism and a generous helping of lyrical writing. The result is a mundane plot with some thoughtful themes, much like a hearty, yet bland, rice pudding studded with the occasional currant.

We meet John as a young boy, vulnerable and hungry. His mother is gone, and somehow his village's narrow-minded superstition is to blame. Through flashbacks, John reveals a painful yet beautiful childhood, gilded with awe at his mother's wisdom and mysteries. She was a healer and midwife but, as we learn, she was also a keeper of the Feast.

Norfolk never makes it clear exactly what he means by the Feast, but this ambiguity saves the book from the plot conventions that otherwise hamper it. His seventeenth century kitchen is alive with detail and rich, period dishes, and his characters' hard-scrabble lives are convincing. Their emotions seem sometimes forced by the necessities of the plot, but their appetites for both food and love are what keep us turning the pages. And in the end we ask ourselves, for whom do I keep the Feast? John Saturnall finds his answer. Now it's our turn.

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma