|You Never Know Who Is Watching|
|Tim Shoemaker talks with a teen.|
|You Never Know Who Is Watching|
|Tim Shoemaker talks with a teen.|
I thought it was mud.
A convoy of trucks thundering past in the opposite direction was kicking up debris. Even after the last tanker had passed, the flak was stinging my hands and face.
What the hell—that mud?—bees! I was plastered in bees.
I’m telling you this story because I love the road and the dire straits into which a journey often leads. If you’re like me you love to hop aboard a good road story and be taken for a ride.
Bees! I was riding headlong into a swarm. They were inside my shirt. They were up my nose and in my ears and stinging my skull. How could they be biting my skill? I was wearing a helmet. I yanked the clasp and jettisoned the thing before I came to a stop.
Where they came from, I have no idea, but I was immediately surrounded by children.
They didn’t ask permission to debug me, just began pulling them out of my hair, out of my ears. They pulled one off my eye, which was swelling. These kids swatted bees off my back and off my thighs. They were inside my khaki shorts, for god’s sake. They were inside my mouth. My lips were swelling. I had to do something, and quickly.
Africans have a saying: If the snake bites you within sight of your village rooftops, you will die. The victim dashes home, I guess, pumping the venom to the heart. You get bitten far from home, however, and you have nowhere to run. You will stay put and do the right thing.
Though my heart was racing, I could feasibly ride the motorcycle without making things worse. I thanked the kids and sped back toward the city. At home I slathered calamine lotion over the worst swelling before lying on my bed. Calm down, I told myself, just breathe. I felt no panic, no sense of tragedy at the prospect of dying. No regrets.
Here I was in Africa living a dream. I worked the rivers, measured their flow when hippos would allow it. For two years I crisscrossed that high dry plateau by Land Rover, camping out most nights lulled to sleep by the sounds of deep nature on the prowl. I earned my pilot’s licence flying a Cessna 172, shot my 8 mm movies, and rode that Honda almost to death. I was 22 years old.
I lay as still as death. Is this what the Sufis advocate—to die before you die?
I’ve been lucky for the “still as death” moments that life has forced upon me. I’ve learned how to cultivate such moments but back then I was dependent upon bad luck to trip me up and pin me down. I hope you know what I’m talking about.
We normally operate from a sense of being a physical-emotional-thinking entity. That’s us, the subject of our everyday lives. Then we’re brought suddenly and against our will to a full stop and an amazing thing happens. I’m lying there fully aware of “myself” in all its physical-emotional-thinking-ness. But if I can see it, then what is this subjectivity that’s aware of it?
Who am “I,” really?
The question creates a vast space in which time seems not to exist, but the clock on the wall showed that an hour had passed while my condition had not worsened, so I checked my physical self in the mirror. I would be okay. I remember starting to laugh.
I’m telling you this story because I have a vault full of road stories that might add up to a travel book one day. I was mentioning this publishing possibility to an old friend and without hesitation he instructed me to begin with the bees. It’s a short story which not only doesn’t get very far but then I hurry home. What kind of travel story is that?
Long or short, the key to a good road story is that it distances the protagonist from who he or she mistakenly thinks they are. That would be the point of a story, wouldn’t it? We leave home in the hope that we might reach closer to who we really are.
And let me know in the comments below if you’re the kind of reader who is willing to be taken for a ride. I promise you that my next story will take us miles beyond sight of our village rooftops.Add a Comment
I have probably mentioned before that I have an interest in books with some kind of weight-related angle. One branch of my family has been...big...for three generations, probably more. While I've only been borderline heavy at times, myself (though I still have time), I've seen what this issue can do to a lot of people. It's something I think about a lot. If my response to Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught a few years ago is any indication, I over think about it.
All the time I was reading 45 Pounds (More or Less) by K.A. Barson, I was over thinking like mad.
One of the things I was over thinking about was how difficult it must be to write a book about being overweight. I definitely accept the value of the material. But can you write about the experience of being overweight without writing an issue/problem book? How can you write about being overweight without that situation being a problem? On the most superficial level, to do that the writer would have to find a way to overcome social attitudes toward the overweight in the world she creates, forget about the practical considerations Anne in 45 Pounds deals with or the health considerations my family members have dealt with. It's hard to see how this can go any other way than a problem story.
So 45 Pounds falls into the problem novel category, covering a multitude of reasons for people finding themselves a size 17, as main character Anne does. She really is hammered with far more reasons to comfort and impulse eat than anyone needs. She's very good at recognizing them. Though that probably makes sense because she's been studying weight loss for a big part of her sixteen years. Anne's big turn around comes from her desire to help someone else, not herself. That's something I could over think about with little effort. Is it better to improve yourself for yourself or for someone else? What does it all mean?
45 Pounds is definitely readable. Far more readable, in fact, than my angsting over the weight issue would lead my readers to believe. After I finished the book and while I was working on this blog post, I happened to read an article by Susan Dunne about artist Nathan Lewis. At the very end, he says, "That's the way we learn stories, through fragments. The narrative happens in our own mind." It immediately made me think of 45 Pounds, though not because its story is fragmented. Not at all. It's all there. But readers like myself, who feel they have a connection to that story, can get trapped in a narrative in our own minds.
Discover the work of Devin Flynn, Cartoon Brew's Artist of the Day!Add a Comment
I just learned that my Lives essay, “A Doubter in the Holy Land,” will be included in Best American Travel Writing 2015. The guest editor is Andrew McCarthy. Thank you for choosing my essay, Andrew McCarthy!Add a Comment
Congratulations, writers! You completed the 8th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge! Check back tomorrow for a chance to sign the Participant Pledge.Add a Comment
Something interesting happens while reading Can't and Won't: you'll start to find meaning and nuance in even the most mundane of occurrences. That's the beauty of Davis's deceptively simple, frequently funny stories — they'll teach you to become more observant and to embrace our tendency as humans to overthink things. I guarantee you'll enjoy the [...]Add a Comment
What not to do when using social media.
What would change if you knew an asteroid was going to hit the earth in six weeks? Wallach takes this premise and crafts it into an addictively readable and thought-provoking work that challenges you to really think about what matters to you. Love, high school, and possibly the end of the world: this is going [...]Add a Comment
SANTIAGO, PANAMA -- Nena has seen horrors. The wife of a member of a Santiago Rotary Club has seen it all. When we enter a Santiago hospital and I ask her if she works here, she laughs.
“No,” she tells me. “I volunteer here. I volunteer everywhere. My husband. The man with the cane? He works here.”
Nena is from Mexico originally. She knows Spanish, English, Italian and Japanese. She is a Rotarian from birth, she says. Her father was a Rotarian. Her husband is a Rotarian. She is not an official part of the Santiago Rotary Club, which is about 26 members strong. Only one of those members is a woman. She is still a Rotarian.
“There used to be five women.” She shrugs like this change in the membership dynamics is not much of a big deal.
She spends the day showing us the projects that the Santiago Rotarian men have accomplished, but also the projects that are propelled by the wives of the club, women who spend their times unofficially helping people.
One of those places she brings us is a home for children who are malnourished. Another is a home for children whose mothers are having difficulties. Some of them are orphans. Some of them are not officially orphans. There are sisters whose father is their grandfather. There is Kimberly, 11, whose mother tried to kill her last year. Kimberly is sweet, perching on a coach, a desk, while the younger children frolic around her. She picks a multi-colored Beanie Baby bear and cradles it in her hands. She watches the Rotarians crowd in to meet her and the other children and hear how Rotary has helped them. She smiles shyly but quickly. I am instantly in love with her as she laughs as a Rotarian with spotty Spanish tries to figure out her age.
“Her mother is in prison forever,” Nena says with anger. She tells us the story of another girl, eight, who she met in a hospital. “I saw her, saw the line on her belly and said, ‘This girl is pregnant.’”
But Nena persisted. “They said, ‘She hasn’t even had her first period yet.’ But I said, ‘She is.’”
They tested her and she was more than halfway through her pregnancy. Her mother couldn’t understand. It turned out that her grandfather watched her while her mother worked. Her grandfather had been raping her. He also sold her to his friends. He is in jail now.
“As far as I am concerned they should have cut off his balls,” Nena says.
Nena enters a home for children with troubles, children like Kimberly, those sisters, a little boy named Jesus, and she scoops up a baby, cradling him in her arms, cooing. She is justice and kindness. She is anger and action. She is love and grace and a million things all wrapped up in a small package of a woman that wears multiple pieces of jewelry at once.
The Bar Harbor and Ellsworth Maine Rotary Clubs and Nena visit schools and water towers that the Santiago Rotary Club has sponsored. We meet Jesus who folds his Ellsworth Blueberry Pancake Breakfast t-shirt into a precise rectangle, smiling at his colored pencils and coloring book. We meet school children who will have physical education class again simply because we have brought a few soccer balls. We meet Kimberly who smiles with love despite what her mother tried to do.
Ellsworth President David Wells hands out toys and t-shirts. Ellsworth High School student Josh Callnan who pumps up soccer balls with a pump that Dave Wheaton and Annette Higgins thought to bring. Sallie Boggs is greeted by an eight-kindergartener simultaneous hug. Shaun Farrar is surrounded by children at each school he visits. The students gaze up and up at his 6 foot 5 inch frame with wonder, giggling as he asks their names.
“They think he is a giant,” one Santiago Rotarian laughs. “He is, actually.”
In a place where malnourishment is often an issue, growing so tall is rare. The Santiago Rotarians have made combatting malnourishment a priority creating fiver or six sites at schools where they hatch and raise chickens for six weeks, three times a year. The students then eat the chickens for lunch. Their parents take turns cooking, rotating throughout the year. The chickens that are not eaten are sold to buy more at an earlier stage in their life cycle.
Nourishment helps children have stronger minds and bodies. Rotarians including former Santiago Club President Edwin Munoz dispersed 10,000 dictionaries throughout Panama to give students access to words that will give them broader, stronger futures. `
Clean water is also important. Working with a Rotarian from Texas, the club has provided multiple water tanks to both residential areas and schools. The Rotarian’s wife had died. When they were visiting Panama she had been saddened by the lack of running water in schools. School would have to be closed in the middle of the day so children could wash and get water off site.
“It was disruptive,” says their principal. “This is so much better.”
The Santiago Rotarians have even provided sewing machines to the local hospital so that workers could make hospital gowns and surgery garments for doctors and patients.
Hospital Director Doctor Rafael Andrade addressed the Rotarians and speaking both about the sewing machines and the wheelchairs that the Ellsworth and Bar Harbor Rotarians brought over said, “There is no word for this because it is something that comes from you’re heart. I hope that this visit is not your last time here.”
As the Rotarians visited the bowels of the hospital to see the industrial sewing machines, Nena said, “They have needs. The hospital – everyone – they have many needs. They want wheelchairs, too.”
Rotary and Nena and the women like her keep picking away at those needs. When the home for malnourished children needed a physical therapy room, Rotarians from Panama and the United States stepped up.
“They needed a wall for the room. We built a wall. They needed another wall for a room. They built another wall. Piece by piece is how these things happen,” Nena says.
And she’s right. It is piece by piece, volunteer by volunteer, wheelchair by wheelchair, water tower by water tower that change happens, that lives become a little bit better, that hope because reality. Change and hope, service and volunteerism are powerful things. It doesn’t matter if it’s little steps. All that matters is that it’s steps in the right direction. That direction is forward. That direction is to a better life. That direction is towards hope. #rotary #rotaryinternational
We barely had an hour for the just previously announced Hawkgirl casting news to settle in before another superhero has been lined up for the Arrow/Flash superhero team-up spin-off.
Arthur Darvill, known best to some segments of fandom as playing Rory Williams on Doctor Who, has signed on to play Rip Hunter on the new show.
The Wrap, who exclusively reported the news, briefly described Hunter:
The former Doctor’s Companion will play DC comic book character Rip Hunter, a roguish time traveler who hides the strains of being responsible for history itself behind a facade of charm and wit.
The character, created in 1959 by Jack Miller and Ruben Moreira for Showcase, is probably best known for starring in his own series, Time Masters, being a part of the Linear Men just prior to Zero Hour and playing a major role in 52, The Return of Bruce Wayne, and the Geoff Johns’ written Booster Gold series.
The British-born Darvill is a fascinating choice for the role, but given that he was one of the highlights of the recent Doctor Who seasons and a standout on Broadchurch, this may be another casting masterstroke.
The irony of Darvill playing a time-traveler is not lost on me.Add a Comment
It's been a wonderful month of reading and writing. We hope that you're inspired to keep on writing. You are all invited to join us every Tuesday for our Slice of Life Story Challenge throughout the year. And, of course, we hope to see you all next year!Add a Comment
Lonnie Mann is trying to raise $3,000 on Kickstarter to fund a comic strip book called Thoughts from Iceland, a Travelogue Comic.
Inspired by John & Hank Green’s \"Thoughts From Places\" videos on YouTube, the comics recount Mann’s experiences traveling around Iceland. Check it out:
I’ve self-published very small runs of the comic in 3 short volumes, which I sell at cons, and online. But they’re expensive to print, and so they’re also expensive for people buy!
This kickstarter is to raise money to print professional-quality, perfect-bound, softcover books of the whole finished comic. Plus, it includes 30+ pages of new watercolors and stories about the second trip I took to Iceland, a year later. And that’s not even to mention the Icelandic glossary, and pronunciation guide!Add a Comment
My principal aim...has been to restore a sense of wonder, excitement, and sheer fun to this great work. To that end, perhaps for the first time, I examine Stoker's published compilation of letters, journals, and recordings as Stoker wished: I employ a gentle fiction here, as I did in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, that the events described in Dracula "really took place" and that the work presents the recollections of real persons, whom Stoker has renamed and whose papers (termed the "Harker Papers" in my notes) he has recast, ostensibly to conceal their identities.As Stoker wished. What did that entire sentence above actually mean?
Truly remarkable doctoring. Although the science of blood transfusing was still in its infancy, there was some understanding that compatibility of donor and recipient was important. Having transfused Lucy twice successfully (by blind luck), Van Helsing rolls the dice a third time, risking serious problems, rather than fall back on a tested donor.Klinger's point seems valid, but it seems unlikely that the "blind luck" aspect would otherwise have jumped out at the reader enough to disrupt a continuity of the 'fictional dream'. Other critical annotations might question distances traveled in elapsed time periods, conflicting dates of diary entries, etc., unethical legal behavior of the solicitor, Jonathan Harker, credulousness of Professor Van Helsing, criticisms of Helsing's dialect (I disliked it, too) etc. However, many such items were not likely to cause the reader too much difficulty in staying with the story. There were only a few items pointing out an inconsistency in the powers available to the vampire which might have given me some pause even without the annotation.
Here's the poster for the 2015 Art on the Green arts festival in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, featuring one of the fabulous osprey that make their home on and around Lake Coeur d'Alene.Add a Comment
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean Echenoz's The Queen's Caprice, forthcoming from The New Press.Add a Comment
What do you get when you take Sherlock Holmes and make Henry James his sidekick, mixing reality, fiction, and mystery into a historical pastiche? An entertaining and brilliant adventure that fans of Dan Simmons will gobble up with glee! Books mentioned in this postAdd a Comment
Just as I am thinking, whew, I can relax a bit and have some meandering reads, the book gods decided to have a big belly laugh. It is now my turn for Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast and The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. I’ve been looking forward to these for some time and I started the Chast last night and it’s so good.
These of course arrive at the same time I have gotten a review copy of The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak. I’ve not read Shafak before and I am really looking forward to it. It takes place in the Ottoman Empire starting around 1540 and centers around architecture, jealousy and rivalry.
And because that’s not enough, I’m expecting another review copy in the mail of a book called The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl. Nineteenth century book pirates! Yes, you read that right. They are out to steal Robert Louis Stevenson’s last manuscript. It sounds completely silly but I’m hoping for a good, fun adventure kind of novel. Fingers crossed!
These four books in addition to all the other books that are lined up or already on the go. I am quite probably demented. Also, I am fairly certain that I have no concept of time when it comes to books and how much time is available during my day for me to spend reading.
And then today I found out about a project at the Biodiversity Heritage Library where they are asking people to help transcribe old seed and nursery catalogs. Of course I want in on that!
Since I work at a Catholic University I will be having a four-day Easter holiday weekend. The weather on Friday and Saturday is forecast to be not so very pleasant which means I will have plenty of time to indulge in reading and catalog transcribing. But since I already know I have no concept of time, I no doubt am thinking there will be so much more of it available than there really will be. I wonder if the scientists at the Large Hadron Collider really do make contact with a parallel universe that might mean I can find another me and we can get together and divide and conquer. That’s divide and conquer the reading, though being in charge of a universe or two could be fun. Nah, it would cut into my reading time.
They've announced the longlist for the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award, one of the leading Australian book prizes.
It includes Elizabeth Harrower's long unpublished In Certain Circles (which I hope to be getting to soon).
See also, for example, Stephen Romei's report in The Australian.
With playful and elegant prose, conservation biologist Hanson takes on something so small but so powerful: the mighty seed. What begins as an exasperated attempt to break open a seemingly impenetrable seed shell leads to an in-depth exploration of the origins, functions, and human exploitations of these incredible little vessels of life. Books mentioned in [...]Add a Comment
The still yet to be titled spin-off of The Flash and Arrow that will presumably air sometime next year on The CW continues to add to its cast, this time establishing a new character as Broadway star Ciara Renée will take on the role of Kendra Saunders/Hawkgirl.
Here’s how Deadline, who broke the news, describes this version of the character:
In the new series, Saunders is a young woman who is just beginning to learn that she has been repeatedly reincarnated over the centuries. When provoked, her ancient warrior persona manifests itself, along with wings that grow out of her back, earning her the moniker Hawkgirl.
The superhero team-up show, produced by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, and Marc Guggenheim has already brought on Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Victor Garber, Wentworth Miller, and Dominic Purcell to play their various members of the DC Universe for the series, and it’s expected that more are to join soon, including three characters that have yet to appear on television (which Deadline surmises that Hawkgirl is not one of those reported three).
Hawkgirl hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in the live action side of things, having only briefly appeared on Smallville, but the character was a standout in the DC Animated Universe having been wonderfully played by Maria Canals-Barrera in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.
Bringing on another female superhero, including one that is a person of color, is a terrific move and my excitement for this new series continues to grow.Add a Comment
In the Times of Zambia Davies M.M. Chanda complains that Zambian Literary Works Below Par.
Yes, because you probably hadn't noticed:
I am hereby announcing the bad news that Zambia is shamefully entering the other half of the century without producing a Ngugi or Achebe.(That's the other half of the century of Zambian independence Chanda is referring to .....)
He's such a little mouse — what could he possibly see? The whole wide world, that's what. With big sweeps of soft color and spare, poetic words, Such a Little Mouse takes us on a sweet journey as our tiny hero gets ready for the winter. Books mentioned in this postAdd a Comment