Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Snow Day!

One of the best things about working in a school is the occasional snow day.While it's true that we have to make them up in June, when the snow is coming down and the roads are icy and the wind is howling, it's a little luxury to be able to sleep in or just curl up with a cup of tea in front of the wood stove. I love Netflix as much as the next guy, but after a while in front of the screen I start to get restless and I need to find an artistic diversion.

If it's not safe to drive to work, then I can't very well justify driving out to an art supply store, so I need to rely on the supplies I already have on hand. Yesterday I dug out my bags that contain vintage linens. I used a large doily and an embroidery hoop that I'd forgotten I had and I made myself another bohemian dream catcher. I've made them before, and someday when I start up my hippie commune, I'll have all the decorations ready to go.

The one on the left is the one I made most recently. 

I've also been working on a new art journal. It's an ocean themed one. I began it because last year we withdrew an ocean reference book from the library because the pages were falling out. I was unprocessing it, and when I removed the dust jacket, I saw that the hardcover underneath was beautiful.

It seemed like such a waste that it had been covered up for so many years, and I couldn't bear to put it in the recycling bin, so I rescued it. It wasn't a huge issue that some of the pages were falling out because whenever I begin an altered book art journal, I remove some of the pages anyways. (The books tend to 'swell up' when all the extra materials and glue are added, so removing some pages beforehand makes room for the expansion.)

Altered books are perhaps the easiest art project to create. It requires very little, and the amount of changes you make to the book are completely at the artist's discretion. For example, in this photographic double spread, I just added the little traffic sign- which I had snipped out of a magazine.

I thought it was perfect. Everytime I see these pages now, I expect a mermaid to swim by.

Both of these pages were also created by applying just one little scrap of paper to the image that was already in tact.

I used these two pages as kind of a personal scrapbook. The backgrounds are magazine ad's, and then I put the photos on them.

Old sheet music (from Salvation Army for 50 cents) is always fun to use, too.

Obviously, my time yesterday was well-spent.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My Friend Dahmer

Not MY friend, obviously. I'm referring to the 2012 graphic novel by Derf Backderf.

I don't recall how I became aware of this book- it just sort of appeared on the periphery of my reading conscious. But with my interest in true crime and criminal psychology, combined with my appreciation for graphic novels, I immediately requested it through inter-library loan.

Ever since I started reading graphic novels, I've had a great admiration for them as mediums of literacy: prose, visual and information. It's amazing to me that an author/artist can present a narrative by creating lasting images using an infinite number of stylistics of layout, art and text. 

I knew that Backderf had accomplished this feat very quickly after I finished the book because while lying in bed that night, trying to get back to sleep, I was haunted by the images I had been flipping though hours earlier. I wasn't haunted by what they represent- the biography of a notorious serial killer- it was the art Backderf created that was seared into my mind.

The novel is black and white with heavy ink, and the starkness could be interpreted as a metaphor for Dahmer himself: the person everyone thought he was (weird, geeky, outcast) and the person he knew he was inside. Graphic novels are often thought to be just comic books-kiddie stuff. Derfman's motivation for penning such a dark story in a medium that's often used for young readers seems to be one of catharsis, sympathy and a genuine desire to show some humanity for Dahmer. Not the monster that he became, but the child and the teen he was before then. That person, whom the author knew simply as Jeff, is the tragic figure he wanted to share the story of.

The book was an easy read; it took me just a couple hours.There are some disturbing parts related to Dahmer's early fascination with roadkill, but the art is minimal.What's more disturbing is the foreshadowing that readers who are familiar with Dahmer's notoriety will notice. There are also some very explicit themes throughout the book: teenage alcoholism, depression and mental illness, homosexuality and obviously violence; also, throughout the book Jeff makes his friends laugh by imitating a person with cerebral palsy and the author includes an instance in which he performed in a talent show in the role of Adolf Hitler.* I don't usually consider myself a literary gate-keeper but I wouldn't be comfortable recommending this book to non-adult readers. One of those inclusions could be seen as an invitation for discussion on mental health awareness, acceptance or sensitivity but the combination of all those factors, on top of the reality of the person represented,creates a dark, disturbing story.

I don't mean that as a criticism. I wouldn't expect a book about any criminal to be sunshine and flowers. I'm an informed, experienced reader who has an interest in the topic and my ability to self-censor has been refined for quite some time now. I thought the book was well done and I enjoyed it, for what it is. Backderf is successful at presenting 'Jeff' as a tragic figure: plagued by an unhappy home life, ignored by teachers and classmates at school, ashamed of his sexual orientation during a time when it was not accepted, and tortured by his sick thoughts and dependent on drugs and alcohol as a desperate attempt to distract himself from all the former, the story is a tragedy for everyone involved.

I plan to read his other graphic novel, Trashed, especially because both these books are being adapted into films.

*I would like to clarify that while Backderf includes instances like playing Hitler in a school skit, and laughing at imitations of handicapped people, he never uses Dahmer's crimes, or even Dahmer's personal problems, as a source of humor.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Girl in Pieces

I recently finished my latest YA "teen with mental/emotional disorder" book. I was pleasantly surprised by it, too.

At first, Kathleen Glasgow's book seemed like it was going to read like pretty much every other book in this category: teen ends up in hospital after suicide attempt gone awry, teen meets nice doctor and makes friends in hospital and figures out that if they can accept her and she can accept them then she should be able to accept herself, blah blah et cetera. 

The protagonist Charlie does begin the story in a hospital, and she does meet a friend and trustworthy doc there, but that's only the beginning of her story. The bulk of her story takes place after she leaves the hospital, and she has to try to figure out how to get on with her life.

Her mother's not interested in having her home again, so she moves halfway across the country to crash with one of her old friends. Although the only possessions she has fit in her backpack, she brings a lot of baggage with her. She's not welcome in her home, the friends she made when she lived on the streets have all scattered, and the boy she wants has already moved on and found someone else.

Although she makes a number of bad choices in the months following her release, underneath she is still trying, desperately trying, to ascend to better things. Along with her bad choices, there are small triumphs (she gets a job, she gets her own apartment). Her biggest bad choice comes in the form of a new guy, and although he has even more baggage than she does- they have kind of a Sid and Nancy relationship going on- I still found myself rooting for them. Not rooting that they'd magically get better and ride off into the sunset together, but just rooting that they'd get a little bit better as individuals because I found them both to be likable characters.

I found the ending to be a little long, but I think it was necessary to illustrate how long it takes for someone with these struggles to make progress, even a small degree of progress, because there are inevitably going to be some setbacks involved.

I finished it a couple days ago, but I've since gone back and re-read a few parts. Now, onto another!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Animal Treatment on Film

The internet has been abuzz this week since the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus announced it's closing after 146 years.

I am one of the people who is relieved to hear this. I feel that this type of entertainment, that relies on animals being kept out their natural habitats and forced to perform acts that are unnatural for them, under the duress of loud noises and bright lights is cruel. It's also incredibly outdated. We have so many other ways to entertain ourselves now that there's no need for circuses like this. If people want to perform, like aerial gymnasts or stunt drivers or whatever, that's fine. That's their choice. But I hope that the majority of society has evolved enough that by now we don't need to get our jollies the same ways we used to.

There's a small amusement park/zoo in the town where I work, and even though all the school staff members get free tickets there every spring, I have refused to go the past couple of years. I have talked to people who worked there, one who worked specifically in the 'zoo' part, and what I heard made me very uneasy. I don't know if the place has ever been investigated by a humane society, but I don't feel comfortable supporting it anymore.

I'm not sure I feel comfortable supporting the upcoming release of the film A Dog's Purpose either. I was really looking forward to seeing it because I loved the book, but recently a video surfaced that shows a German Shepherd being forced into the water for filming. PETA is calling for a boycott of the movie while of course the film's producers are insisting that no animals were harmed or mistreated during the production. 

My son has been watching the movie Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey lately, and one day I decided to research how that film fared in terms of animal treatment. I couldn't find any sources that gave evidence of mistreatment, and the Humane Hollywood organization lauded the the filmmakers for using a variety of camera angles, multiple sequences that were spliced together and faux animals to give the effect of the many action segments.

This was a great relief to me because now I can continue to enjoy this movie. I haven't been able to watch Milo and Otis for years, because there are multiple allegations of animal cruelty and deaths in connection with that movie, which was filmed in Japan and was not supervised by any American humane societies, although it's claimed that a Japanese organization was on location.

I'm kind of a nerd when it comes to film history, but I must acknowledge that it's closely tied to animal mistreatment and cruelty as a form of entertainment, the evidence being Thomas Edison's 1903 film "Electrocuting an Elephant." The elephant, which was used in attractions on Coney Island, was sentenced to death after it had become aggressive and attacking. The elephant was originally slated to be hanged (I'm not even sure how that would work) but Edison suggested it's be more humane to electrocute it. Obviously Edison's intentions were to promote his high-voltage current, but by filming the elephant's demise, and then making the film available for nickelodeon viewings and gaining a profit from the creature's demise, this terrible tradition was established. I won't post the video here since it's very disturbing to watch, but if anyone is inclined it's easily found online.

Although the German Shepherd featured in A Dog's Purpose is alive and said to be doing well now, it's regrettable, to say the least, to think that animal treatment in film might still be an issue. We know that dog fighting is cruel. We know that electrocuting an animal is cruel. We know that throwing lemmings off a cliff for the sake of making a 'documentary' is cruel (I'm looking at you, Disney). But isn't causing an animal incredible stress (even if it's not mortal danger) for the sake of our own entertainment also cruel?

The Humane Society has suspended the employee who was on set that day, and there is an investigation underway. It's disappointing in so many ways.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Minimalism and Death Positivity

I'm kind of a Caitlin Doughty fangirl. I read her book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory and I was hooked. I follow her on Instagram, YouTube and I read her blog.

Doughty has worked as a mortician, funeral director and crematory operator. She has made her career in the death industry- something which I find fascinating.

One of her recent blog posts didn't quite make sense to me, though. Actually, it was guest writer  Robert Wringham contributing via Doughty's blog. Wringham writes that leading a minimalist lifestyle is strongly tied to a healthy and normal acceptance of Death. Basically, people who insist on accumulating 'stuff' and keeping it are in denial that one day they will perish and leave it all behind. Kind of like "Well, I can't die because I simply have too much stuff to sort through." It's definitely an interesting perspective, but I can't buy into it myself.

My roommate when I was in grad school (my first time) was a minimalist. We shared a two bedroom apartment, but her room didn't even contain a bed. It contained a mat on the floor, a small nightstand,  her radio and some personal possessions, but that's about it. She was a transient type, and she didn't like having to lug around a bunch of bags and boxes whenever she moved. That's cool. I respect that. It allowed me to have most of the space in the apartment for my own stuff, which I shared with her anyways. I mean what was I supposed to do, not let her use the coffee table?

Wringham writes that when a person with a lot of 'stuff' dies, their possessions inevitable end up at Goodwill or in the landfill because their families aren't going to dedicate much time or interest to lovingly sorting through an entire household. Once again, that's fine. I remember when my great-grandmother died, and my entire extended family descended upon her home to begin the gigantic task of sorting and dividing three floors and nearly nine decades of stuff. I was young so for me it wasn't really work intensive, or painful, and I saw it as a great adventure. Despite the adults in the family having so much work ahead of them so soon after a funeral, I seem to remember many people picking out cherished items to keep. It's not like every single last spoon or sewing needle or empty mason jar was lovingly tucked away for future generations, but going through that process allowed my family time to grieve, time to reminisce together, and time to learn more about my great-grandmother. And what's so terrible about that?

I understand what Wringham is advocating for, but living your life one way just to make your death easier is a little too morbid, even for me. It also makes me think of the commonly known warning sign that people who are contemplating suicide will often begin giving away their possessions. Even though I accumulate alot of 'stuff' I do frequently clean out my house, bringing bags to thrift stores or bringing stuff into school for other uses. I do that because I enjoy giving to others, but I don't think I'd enjoy doing it if I was forcing myself to think "Well I might as well give this away because I'm going to die someday anyways."

I don't expect that one day people will treasure my baking sheets or used dryer sheets or anything like that, but I do hope that a few things will be passed along and distributed among friends and family. Maybe someone would keep some of my art and journals, at least.

Don't let my genius go unknown!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

No Easy Answers

I recently finished Sue Klebold’s book A Mother’s Reckoning and when I got into work today my ILL book was awaiting me: No Easy Answers: Truth Behind Death at Columbine.

It was interesting to read a mother’s account of the tragedy, and the circumstances that she feel led to it, so I decided to read a different viewpoint of the same event. This book was written by a friend and classmate of the teens who were responsible for the shooting.

As I've written before, I was in highschool when Columbine happened, and the year after it happened, I attended the National Catholic Youth Conference. It was a football-field sized stadium that we gathered in, us teens from across the country who came together for this event. Much of the time spent at the conference was listening to speakers and attending workshops and seminars, so it wasn't surprising to see a young woman climb the steps to the stage and take her place behind the podium. I cannot remember what she said her name was, but when she said I"m a student at Columbine Highschool" you could hear a pin drop.

Everyone wanted to hear what this girl had to say because what had impacted her directly had impacted all of us indirectly. Even now as a 30-something adult, I often think back to how I felt watching the news footage of the tragedy, and the conversations I had with my friends in the days and week following. I remember clearly that my high school, a small, private Catholic all-girls school, installed a new security system with a doorbell and a video camera.

I was discussing Sue Klebold's book with a teacher at school who had also read it, and how difficult it is as mothers to even try to imagine our sons committing such a horrible crime, and taking themselves away from us in such a shocking and violent way. Brown writes: "The next Dylan could be your son. . .a regular person who faces the cruelty of the real world just like the rest of us- and in whom something erodes away over time."

After reading Sue Klebold's book, it doesn't seem as if Dylan was unloved, or even that he imagined that he was unloved. I think what eroded away in him was hope. Depression is a cruel disease, and over time it robs people of their ability to see the future in any positive way. What's the point of continuing on if it means more sadness/grief/anxiety/anger/etc? Someone who struggles with depression for years, as Dylan did, and hides it from others due because of the shame involved, probably wouldn't have much hope left.

Everyone begins the same way- a newborn baby. Everyone is someone's child, and even though society paints people as monsters, I like to remind myself that everyone is a person. I can't believe that anyone begins their life intent on destroying another's, and I see these books as an attempt to restore some humanity, even in the worst imaginable scenarios.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wabi Sabi

I was recently introduced to the Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi.

This concept is derived from Buddhism and represents a world view focused on transience and imperfection. Basically, the flaws we see in art, everyday objects or ourselves should not only be accepted, but celebrated. These flaws remind us that nothing is perfect or permanent. Cracks, crevices rust and peeling paint are all marks left behind by time, weather and loving use. Everything around us is transient, as are we, and all of it is constantly in the process of returning to the dust from which it was made.

I am in love with this phrase, because I never knew that one existed for the way I live.

My home is an altar Wabi Sabi: the art I make, to the roadside cast-off furniture I bring in, my vintage cookware that's cracked and chipped, the teddy bear that's missing his arms and an ear that I found washed up on the beach.

                          Broken keys on a typewriter                            The teddy bear that washed up on Long Sands 

                        Chippy paint on this old window frame                        Rust on this discarded door

                         Layers of peeling paint on                                     A chipped teacup holds flowers
                       this abandoned rocking chair

I've become very selective about the people I invite to my home because I know many people would look around my yard and house and just think all the stuff is "weird." Hand-made wind chimes, funky painted furniture, blue bottles hanging from trees, orphaned dolls and stuffed animals.  .  .it's not because I'm poor or weird or a hoarder, it's because I think they're beautiful, and they contain stories.

I don't usually have to explain any of this to people (because I don't invite people over who wouldn't understand and the people who do come over are friends who don't need it explained) but it's nice to know that this is a philosophy- not just an eccentricity.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Mother's Reckoning

I recently started reading A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold. She is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the teens who was responsible for the Columbine school shooting in April of 1999.

I read books like this because I've always had an interest in true crime and criminal psychology, and also in this particular event. I admit that I can be a bit morbid, but I also know that there are many people my age who have an interest in Columbine because it was a defining moment for our generation. People who are my parents' age remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, and people my age remember this event in the same way. Tragedy can bring people together. It can also rip families and communities apart.

For many years, we thought we knew all about Columbine. We knew that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had belonged to the Trench Coat Mafia, and we knew that Cassie Bernall had answered "Yes" when her killers asked her if she believed in God. But as always, the further we recede from an event, the clearer we are able to see it, and the facts come to the surface like the cream rises on milk.  This April will mark the 18th anniversary of of the shootings, and eighteen years has allowed us to separate the facts from fiction and has also given us enough time to grieve, while giving Sue Klebold the opportunity to clarify some aspects of the story. Eighteen years is certainly an appropriate amount of time for us to let go of everything we thought we knew, and listen to someone who does know. She knows her son took lives, but she also grieves a son who took his own life. Her book is simply her account of how she reconciles two images of her son: the son she gave birth to, hugged and kissed and laughed with and the son that committed an infamous crime against humanity.

One part that struck me early on is her discussion of the role the media had in early coverage of the shooting. The sources reported many inaccuracies, exaggerations and fabrications, and information literacy is a hot topic now in the wake of so many "fake news" stories that proliferate on social media. The first news reports gave a death toll of 25, which is nearly twice the actual number of victims (not including the killers themselves). The helicopters circling overhead made the Klebold home look like a sprawling compound, contributing to the mythos that the killers were spoiled rich brats, when in fact the house was bought at a very low price due to the building's neglect, evidenced by the mice infestation. When the initial shock wore off, and we started struggling to comprehend "how" and "why" the accounts seemed to give every scenario possible, including the ones that contradicted each other: the boys had been bullied, the boys had been bullies themselves, the boys had been planning this attack for years, the boys had simply "snapped" and acted on impulse, they had been outcasts, they had been likable and had other friends and recently attended the prom.  .  .it was difficult for anyone to guess the truth with so many different speculations swirling about.

Teachers and librarians are struggling now to help students learn how to decipher credible sources of information from ones that are not; it's easy to teach them that an academic journal is more reliable than a Wiki article, but it's a struggle for many adults to sort out the "real story" when the media is so willing to feed us information that is biased, exaggerated, or simply wrong.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Dog, Ray review

I was fresh off of reading A Dog’s Purpose when I spotted one of new arrivals: The Dog, Ray. I’m a sucker for animal stories, especially dog stories.

It definitely has some similarities with W. Bruce Cameron’s book; both stories follow the philosophies that 1) dogs do have souls, not unlike humans and 2) souls inhabit bodies as long as the bodies are alive, and then they move onto a new body.

Twelve year old Daisy is killed in a car accident, and is surprised to find herself in processing center, which is like an employment agency. She is quickly reassigned to a new body and her instructions are to go down the hall and through the door on the right, and she realizes too late that she exited out the door on the left.

She finds herself in a new, canine body. She assumes that she will be able to track down her grieving parents, somehow communicate to them that she is indeed their beloved daughter, and live out the rest of her life comforting them. But of course, nothing is ever that simple.

The longer Daisy, renamed Ray, lives as a dog, the less she remembers about her former life. She wonders if souls are recycled all the time, if we’re supposed to remember our past lives or if it’s less painful to have it washed away in death, and begin each life anew.

Cameron’s book allowed me to indulge in the idea that my old dog, Jasmine, is alive somewhere in a new dog body, and that maybe she remembers me. Does she remember sledding in the winter? Does she remember all the car rides I took her on after I got my driver’s license? Does she think of me in that sliver of time before night ends and morning begins, when I’d reach my arm down and feel her sleeping next to my bed?  Linda Coggin’s book makes me wonder if that’s really ideal. Imagine how much pain we would all carry inside us if we remembered everything from several lifetimes.

I love books that are written for children that bring up topics of life and death and spirituality and the afterlife because not only do they inspire thoughts about those ideas, they validate our uncertainty, hope, and fear.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

awaiting another Evil Librarian!

I was checking out the freebies and ARC's that are available on LibraryThing, and I was very excited to see a listing for Revenge of the Evil Librarian, the sequel to Evil Librarian.

And here's the cover reveal for the sequel:

Monday, January 9, 2017

Robbing the Cradle

I was perusing the library's Instagram account this morning, and obviously we follow many other libraries and bookstores and authors, and someone posted a picture of the recent James Patterson book Cradle and All.

I couldn't help but think of a few other horror books covers I've seen recently:

I know I've posted before about the trends that arise in book cover design, especially because many of them are created now by using stock photos and then altering them, but it's always fun to juxtapose a few examples that use a similar design or theme.

The Replacement and Cradle and All both had these covers in hardcover, but The Ghost of Lily Painter had a different cover in it's hardback edition, and did not receive this new treatment until the paperback was released. The hardcover looked like this:

I'm not saying that this publisher copied anyone else, in fact The Ghost of Lily Painter had its paperback release in 2012, and the other two books were published afterwards. I'm merely pointing out the the similarities in the design.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Memory of Light review

Young Adult books in which the protagonist battles some kind of mental or emotional disorder are always a go-to read for me.  Seeing young teens every day at work reminds me that I was also one, and that they come with emotions and thought processes that we don't always understand, or remember to try to understand. Even the most well-adjusted teens and young adults can often relate some aspect of these books, whether it's conflict with parents and siblings, or pressure to succeed in school or extra-curricular activities, feeling socially awkward and outcast or just struggling to understand who you really are inside.

I think these books have intrinsic value in collections for those reasons, and even if the reader does not share the same mental/emotional issue that the book's character does, it promotes awareness that everyone struggles with something.

I was a bit disappointed that this novel read like many of the others I've read: girl tries to kill herself, girls gets hospitalized, girl makes friends at hospital who have similar issues and she realizes that she is not alone and that there is support available for her if she has the courage to seek it, etc. I think the best thing about this particular novel is that it focuses on a group of Mexican-American teens, and the doctor who works with them is Indian. It is vital that people understand that mental and emotional health problems do not affect only one skin color, or one economic class. I've read so many books with these themes that take place in upper-middle class suburban neighborhoods and focus on white teen girls. 

Of course those stories do have a place and a significance, but they seem to have proliferated over the past decade or so, making books that feature other races and demographics that much more necessary in order to paint a better picture of the problem itself.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks is a movement that specifically aims to increase the availability of children's literature that includes a wide array of races, religions, heritages, genders, sexual orientations and beyond.

By featuring several Mexian-American teens, one from an affluent family and the others from blue collar families an Indian psychiatrist, references to the Hindu god Ganesh, the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, Stork certainly has a winning contribution to the movement. Although I was disappointed in the storyline focusing on Vicky's depression because it was par for the course as YA novels go, I applaud the characters he creates as well as the cultural references which may pique a reader's interest and encourage them to learn more about them.