Author: <span class="vcard">Carrie</span>

Part of my ongoing monthly post series about documentary films I’m watching.

September 25 through October 3 is the Jackson Hole Wild Festival, a bi-annual conference and showcase of wildlife and science films from big-name (ahem…National Geographic) and independent filmmakers. I bought a 5-punch pass for the event, and so far I’ve seen two films, screened at the JH Center for the Arts. Each day has a theme – Big Cats, Oceans, Explore Africa, etc – reminding me that this is a biologically diverse planet with lots to document.

Thin Ice     My first film of the festival. Introduced by a Subaru ad announcing an initiative to reduce all waste to zero in three national parks – Denali, Yosemite, and Grand Teton. And an announcement that Shell had stopped drilling in the Arctic – holy wow. As for the documentary, I really enjoyed it. How do you say you enjoyed a film about Climate Change? I think because it was about the quest to understand the science. I loved the section on how to drill for an ice core more than a mile deep/long, then use sophisticated equipment to melt the ice millimeter by millimeter and measure dust particulates (like carbon) and air bubbles to get data to establish a record of the earth’s climate going back hundreds of thousands of years. I’m currently reading Tim Flannery’s book The Weather Makers, and coincidentally, I came home after seeing Thin Ice to read Chapter 16, which is all about the climate modeling discussed in the film. It’s fascinating stuff, and the film really shows you the human beings – oceanographers, atmospheric physicists, biologists – who are painstakingly conducting experiments, doing research, testing hypotheses and scrutinizing predictions.

Tiger, Tiger    I wanted to see this film because I am obsessed with apex predators and utterly beautiful places I will probably never visit.  This is a documentary about an incredible man – Dr. Alan Rabinowitz of the nonprofit Panthera – and his love for the majestic Bengal tiger, denizen of the Indian and Bangladeshi coastal mangrove forest known as the Sundarbans. It’s also a film about the people who live in the jungle with these tigers – who revere the tigers, fear them, protect them, and are all too often killed by them. There’s so much here to take in and consider, I wish someone I know would see this film so we could talk about it.

800px-Plos_wilsonFor folks who love documentaries, it’s a great time to be plugged into the interwebs – so many films only a click away. It doesn’t take the place of human interaction though, and I wanted to add that the highlight of my week was seeing sociobiologist and ant expert E. O. Wilson on Monday night. He was interviewed informally by Kirk Johnson, and the whole evening was simply delightful. Wilson is 86 years old and still as witty, compassionate and wise as ever. Leave it to a Jackson Hole audience to ask him hilarious questions; Wilson’s off-the-cuff replies dished it right back (my paraphrased Q&A notes follow).

Q: If you could, would you send us all back to the Paleolithic?

EOW: Do you want to be a big, slimy-skinned, slobbering Labyrinthodont?

Q: If every ant species united against humanity, would they wipe us out?

EOW: Ha, no.

Q: Have you ever eaten a chocolate covered ant?

EOW:  Yes – they’ve got a nice tang to them – that formic acid.

Q: Will insects be a major food source for humans in the future?

EOW: God, I hope not.

Q: What’s your favorite band?

EOW: I’m not much into rock music, but I’ve been listening to the Grateful Dead lately.

 

“Bengal Tiger in Water (13290323163)” by MJ Boswell from Annapolis, Md, USA – Bengal Tiger in Water. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons  

“Plos wilson” by Jim Harrison – PLoS. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons 

get reel

I have a poem in Strange Horizons! This is the best thing ever. Strange Horizons is one of the greatest literary magazines for speculative poetry. I am still pinching myself. I think I’m qualified for membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America now. Cross that off the bucket list.

Last year, actually right about this same time last year – I was on the road from Shelton, Washington to Tucson, Arizona. On my way to the Southwest from a writer’s residency at Hypatia-in-the-Woods, cruising down the California coast, I stopped off for the night at Bodega Dunes Campground – one of the Sonoma Coast State Parks beaches.

B3D08C2B-5285-462F-B576-4FBA90106E22I was traveling alone. The day was grey, surreal, salty. I was trapped at the edge of the earth: the plunging sea, the leaden sky, the lonely beach. There were loud tripped-out campsite parties raging until late in the night, too-bright public restrooms, drunk men with huge Bowie knives yelling about country music, midnight wanderers stumbling past my tent (one of whom was startled by the hulking shadowshape of my bike on top of my car – “Oh my God what the hell is that!!??”). I slept fitfully and had bizarre dreams. Thanks for the memories, Sonoma Coast!

Needless to say, all of this morphed into a poem. Something like HP Lovecraft meets Hilda Doolittle. HP and HD, together on the west coast and in my crazed brain.

You can read “Bodega Dunes” here, if you’re not scared. Also – my reading of the poem will be part of the Strange Horizons podcast later this month. Yes – you can hear me read my own work. I’ll post a link to that when it goes live.

 

Photograph of the Pacific Ocean near Bodega Dunes Campground by me.

read me

CHEESE. No, I’m not talking about my sense of humor. Or maybe I am? (We’ll see). Lately I’ve become obsessed by three different cheeses. I say “different”….now, but that might be inaccurate – at least two are from Spain.  Allow me to do a bit ‘o cheesearch; I mean, research, and enlighten you.

First, I love cheese. I’m sorry if you’re a vegan and I hope you won’t hold this post against me, (please feel free to hold a wedge or cube or slice of cheese against me, though – I will gladly take that cheese and eat it). I was actually vegan for a full year, my favorite cookbook ever (EVER) is Veganomicon, and I LOVE nut cheeses like cashew ricotta, but alas I probably do not share most nondairy convictions.

Anyway back to cheese, dairy cheese, goat or sheep or cow milk cheese. I am currently going into debt buying several cheeses and devouring them almost weekly: Manchego, Welsh Cheddar, and Drunken Goat. Let’s break it down cheese by cheese.

Manchego  The Cheese From La Mancha. Almost everybody loves them some Manchego, right? Nutty, buttery, grassy. It’s like if a wedge of Romano and a stick of butter rolled around in a spring field and made a baby. Sheep’s milk – I had no idea I loved it! I’m partial to the Curado age, not too soft, not too dry. Sometimes I get out the Manchego and attempt to set up a fancy cheeseboard with a glass of wine, but usually I just hack off a big chunk and gobble it standing at my kitchen counter.

Drunken Goat Queso de Cabra al Vino! I first discovered this cheese at Cartel in Tucson. What is this magnificence? You say someone soaked a wheel of this luscious goat cheese in a vat of wine? And a small wedge costs as much as my monthly subscription to Daily Burn? Fine, fine, give it to me. Give me the drunken goat cheese! I’ll burn off the fat doing HIIT workouts in the morning.

Collier’s Welsh Cheddar Actually it’s Collier’s POWERFUL Welsh Cheddar, and that’s no lie. This cheese is like a kick in the face. A kick in the face that you will enjoy, my friends. It’s sharp, it’s a knockout, it’s dry but creamy, it’s tangy but toasty. The miners of Wales – the colliers – know what cheddar should be. And the best part? There’s wee crunchy salt crystals in this cheese. How does it get any better? Salt crystals in the cheese.

All these fromages are in your grocery store’s fancy deli section and if they’re not, then I’m really sorry. You should probably stop saving up for a new car or paying off your credit card debt and find a way to buy these cheeses right now. Oh I’m kidding! Do not even get started – you won’t be able to stop. Excuse me I think I still have a piece of Manchego left over from last night’s cheese binge.

 

“Weichkaese SoftCheese” by Eva K. / Eva K. – Eva K. / Eva K.. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons

grab bag

Usually for my documentary watch project I choose flicks based on social, environmental or artistic impact. This time I just reeeaally wanted to see Room 237. Well, I guess this 2013 film falls in the artistic impact category. It’s basically an hour and half or so of commentary on Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining, interspersed with clips, stills, and frame by frame analysis. It was directed by Rodney Ascher, whose upcoming documentary The Nightmare actually interests me more than Room 237, because it’s about sleep paralysis and I’m obsessed with (and often plagued by) that phenomenon.

After two decades of consideration, I’ve decided that The Shining is not only my favorite Stephen King book, but the best he’s written. It works on so many levels – as a terrifying ghost story, a powerful character study of a family destroyed by alcoholism, and a chilling portrait of an innocent boy’s supernatural powers. But – that’s the novel. Stanley Kubrick’s film version is quite different. Usually no matter what, a book is better than its film adaptation. The Shining works for me as movie and novel – I think of them as separate entities. The book haunted me, most particularly because of young Danny’s precognitive visions – so frustratingly muddled and misunderstood because of his age and his inexperience. The movie frightened me – I mean eeeggghhhh – the creepy woman in the tub!!

I’m not a big Kubrick fan, but I don’t think anybody else could have filmed The Shining (or 2001: A Space Odyssey, for that matter) quite so…unnervingly. Seeing The Shining dissected in this documentary confirmed that – for a horror movie junkie like me – it’s always fun to watch slow-mo clips and look (okay, sometimes dig) for symbolism and subliminal images. There’s lots of excited jabbering about the designs in the hotel carpets, numerology digressions (42!!), and some intriguing maps of the (sometimes physically impossible) hotel set.  I kind of agree that a major underlying theme in Kubrick’s film is that of genocide – particularly of Native Americans and Jews, with the main character serving as the archetype of white male insanity and weakness/dominance. In the novel, I felt much more sympathy for Jack Torrance as a human being – abusive and abused, used up and washed out, redeemed in the end. In the movie, we’ve got Jack Nicholson and his crazyballs acting, which in part makes the film so different from the book. There’s a great clip in Room 237 of Nicholson getting into character for the infamous “Heeeeere’s Johnny!!” scene – he’s rampaging around the set grunting and practice-swinging his axe, almost knocking down one of the crew.

I do think that some of the commentators (I don’t know who any of them are and I’m not really interested in knowing – we never see them, we only hear them) went WAY overboard with some pretty laughable semiotics, attributing too much to what I think were simple continuity errors (sure, Kubrick = Genius but that chair wasn’t in the second shot because somebody forgot to put it back, period). I had a good time jumping off the deep end (a poster of a downhill skier somehow looks like a minotaur….i.e. from the hedge maze…okaayyyy); and then I had a good laugh at the wacko discussion of how Kubrick helped fake the Apollo moon landing footage. Whatever!

I enjoyed Room 237 mainly because it’s brimming with examples of patterns and creative symbolism, and pattern recognition is hardwired into my human brain – whether it’s beneficial (survival, creativity) or silly-but-striking (conspiracy theories, superstition – like my fascination with sleep paralysis, known cross-culturally by many names, such as The Old Hag). A nifty illustration of pattern recognition is this clip from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, showing the relationship between the Heike crab, Samurai warriors, and artificial selection – and also a fun opportunity to hear Sagan pronounce the word humans…yooouuumans. Oh, Carl.

 

“Stanley in Snow” by Sgerbic – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons  

get reel

Did you ever watch that show Connections with James Burke? I saw a lot of random episodes with my Dad when I was growing up.  I knew I wanted to be a writer but had no idea I might ever want to be a scientist – or if I was smart enough. But I loved that show. You can watch a few episodes from Series 3 on youtube but I remember the first series best – those grainy pre-Instagram images, Burke in his bellbottoms, science history from alternative perspectives – well, all that’s still relevant, yeah? Anyway – I’m reading the books of Sam Kean right now. Devouring them, I should say. I got them all through my library’s ebook borrowing system, Overdrive. Easy and free – I’m sure your library has Overdrive too. I wonder if there’s anything about digital lending libraries of the future in one of those old Connections episodes? Kean’s way of coming at science from anecdotal and often erratically nonlinear angles reminds me a bit of Connections.

I just tackled The Disappearing Spoon. It’s subtitled And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the Periodic Table. Yes – the periodic table of the elements, that boring old thing. I got a C in high school Chemistry. It was the worst grade I ever received in school until the nightmare that was college PreCalculus. C!!! Devastating (Back then; now, who cares? I should have partied more.) but I know why I got a C. Because that class was excruciatingly difficult and equally as dull. The only enjoyable part of Chemistry class was mocking the way our teacher demonstrated how to pour liquids into a beaker.

The Disappearing Spoon is far from boring. Believe me when I say that the periodic table of the elements – the history of its design; the elements themselves; the humans who discovered and studied these building blocks of the universe – is thrilling, strange, and shocking! I found myself forgoing social activities in order to stay home and read this book! It’s like taking a virtual tour of reality and experiencing how freaky-weird reality is, without drugs. I appreciated Kean’s inclusion of etymology, urban myths, humorously conversational tone, and FOOTNOTES. I adore footnotes, and Kean’s do not disappoint – so frequently does he provide those extra little crunchy nuggets to chew on. (Although in the Kindle app on my iPad it’s aggravatingly difficult to tap the teensy weensy asterisk link that takes you to the footnotes page; I felt like I was playing a game every time – and losing – but I liked it!).

My favorite anecdotes range from poor dear poet Robert Lowell’s lithium “cure” to the ruthenium nibs of the world’s best pen to the Bartlett Mountain molybdenum mine in Colorado – there’s so many I need to read the book again. My brain is a sieve…a fun sieve…but still made of holes… or bubbles? Man, the section on bubble science alone in this book was worth buying it instead of borrowing – we go from Donald Glaser’s atomic beer gun to the calcium coves of the English coast to culinary meringues and a scientist who liked taste-testing his own foamy pee! Oh hell yes, bring the crazy, Sam Kean. And that doesn’t even include Ernest Rutherford, zirconium, fluid dynamics, sonar, the calculation of the age of planet Earth, and perhaps most importantly, Mentos and Diet Coke froth-geysers.

Here’s my own (not really Burke-y) connection: just as I finished reading The Disappearing Spoon, I watched Einstein and Eddington. It’s a lovely, poignant film starring two of my favorite actors, Andy Serkis and David Tennant, as the titular scientists. I didn’t realize how much I’d learned from Sam Kean’s book until I began to recognize certain individuals I’d just read about – like Fritz Haber and his deadly legacy of poison gas and explosives, all stemming from his work on nitrogen fertilizers. And of course Sir Arthur Eddington himself, the Quaker who was the first to experimentally prove Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity during the solar eclipse of 1919. Never has a cinematic eclipse been so captivating to me. There’s also a most exciting dinner table demonstration of spacetime curvature! (Though I do believe the script has John Wheeler’s words coming out of Eddington’s mouth in this scene.) Anyway, I highly recommend the movie (it’s on HBOnow right…now).

You might think I’ve abandoned My Darwin Project, but in truth it’s just expanding – as I hoped it would. Sam Kean’s books were a great find for me – I am stumbling across all kinds of books and articles and films along this path. And even returning to some long ago abandoned trails – I swear I’m going to finish The Song of the Dodo before the end of the year. After I read two more Sam Kean books.

 

“Myspace-rück” by h.muller – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

book reviews

A while back, I stumbled across this AWESOME review column of spectacular television crime drama series. I know a lot of folks who are fans of CSI and NCIS and all those American acronym shows that I can’t really get into. As far as acronyms go, I’m a BBC girl. I like my police procedurals with Brit slang and a cuppa. And now, I find out, I like Danish, Aussie, and Belgian cop shows too! I’m impressed with myself that I’ve watched six of the shows reviewed by Al Lowe in her Wheel of Murder reviews. Or, I just need to get out of the house more often.

I started making my own list of superb shows. The ones that I binge-watched on Sundays during tax seasons long past. The ones that made me jump off the couch and holler when something unbelievable happened to a main character. Shows that shape my own work – writing better dialogue, developing characters with emotional depth, learning new slang, trying for actual plot in my novels.

Right, so – in no particular order, here’s my own hell-yes Rule Britannia list.

Luther  I dare you to find a more fascinating fictional relationship than our hero DCI John Luther and lovable sociopath Alice.

Foyle’s War Pack up your tea cozy and wool knickers, we’re off to the south coast during wartime to solve murders with the unflappable, respectable (and damn sexy) Michael Kitchen.

Line of Duty I stumbled across this on Hulu and I can’t believe more people aren’t talking about it. Excellent cast, some seriously intense scenes.

The Bletchley Circle I found this show because I’m a big fan of Anna Maxwell Martin and I’ll see anything she’s in. So far there’s only two series here, but I so hope there will be more – it’s a cracking good show about a group of brilliant women codebreakers post-WWII who solve mysteries in the face of danger and chauvinism.

Prime Suspect My list isn’t complete without Helen Mirren’s groundbreaking show. I’m bingewatching it on Hulu.

The Fall  Despite being one of those shows that focuses a lot of time on the personal life of a serial killer (eewwww), I was riveted, especially by Gillian Anderson’s steely, shrewd, take-no-shit DSI Stella Gibson. Can’t wait for Season 3.

Whitechapel  I am dying for Series 4 to be available in the US. Rupert Penry-Jones is devastating as uppercrusty, OCD, sweetnatured DI Joe Chandler, hunting Ripper-esque killers in modern-day London.

Life on Mars [Do not watch the American remake.] It doesn’t get much better than a time travel (or is it?) and Manchester detectives mash-up set to a David Bowie soundtrack. Gene Hunt is the only misogynist bastard I adore. Follow up with Ashes to Ashes, quite possibly even better than Life on Mars. Keeley Hawes makes everything sterling (see Line of Duty above).

Torchwood  I might have to confess here that despite being a longtime Doctor Who fan, I love this spinoff more. Because: John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness. And because despite being a sci fi show, it’s a police procedural at heart. With aliens.

Westminster fog – London – UK By George Tsiagalakis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

get reel

I have a bit of an obsession with creating iTunes playlists. Currently I’ve got almost two hundred regular Playlists and probably a hundred Smart Playlists in my XXL iTunes library. I like to give my lists snarky (okay, embarrassing) names like Ham on Whole Wheat, Sunshine and Farts, and Rawk Yer Face Off. Who doesn’t do this? Wait – nobody does iTunes playlists anymore? What’s that? Get a life? You get a life.

I have a constantly evolving playlist that I keep onboard my iPod shuffle for running, mostly comprised of songs from the soundtracks to the novels I’m writing, or just plain buttkicking, step-it-up songs.

Every so often though, I need to make a new playlist whose sole purpose is to keep my spirits up. It’s random, dorky, fist-pumping shit that probably no one but me likes, but here is my latest. The best part is you can listen to it online at 8tracks! See below for my ramblings about the songs and a direct play-link (some tracks couldn’t be uploaded because of copyright issues, but you still get 21 songs and over an hour of free music!).

Songs For The Weary

  • Josh Ritter  “Lantern”   The song that started me writing this blog post. You can’t do much better for a lighters-high, hopeful tune.  That line about the book of jubilations just slays me every time.
  • Talking Heads  “Slippery People”   I have a newfound zesty amour for this song after seeing Twenty Feet From Stardom.
  • Lou Rawls  “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”  Because you won’t. Lou Rawls is my personal god.
  • Gogol Bordello  “Mishto!”  There is no band on Earth like Gogol Bordello.
  • Joe Strummer & The Mescalaros  “Get Down Moses”  The day I discovered this band’s three albums (and never more, RIP Joe) was the day I died a little, and lived a lot.
  • Bob Marley  “Could You Be Loved”  How can I not have a Bob Marley song on this list? This is my hands-down favorite.
  • Mötley Crüe  “Kickstart My Heart”  Yeah, I got the double umlauts on there, baby. Oh, this song.  Yesssssss.
  • Swing Out Sister  “Am I the Same Girl”  Uh huh, following up Crüe with Swing Out Sister.  It’s my playlist, and this song is some sweet brassy sweetness.
  • Prince  “Baby I’m a Star”  Forget everything and just remember that you are a star.
  • Angélique Kidjo  “Lon Lon Vadjro”  I used to listen to Angélique literally nonstop in my twenties. Gotta get back to that because she is the boss.
  • Shovels & Rope  “Fish Assassin”  Ain’t nothin’ beats Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent fish-and-grits harmonies.
  • Robbie Robertson  “Shake This Town”  I love the Storyville album and Robertson’s self titled album so much I actually get a little choked up just thinking about listening to all the songs.
  • Timbaland (feat. Miley Cyrus)  “We Belong to the Music”  Yep, a Miley song.  I don’t answer to you.
  • AWOLNATION  “Knights of Shame”  I love a song that changes it up at least three times (see next bullet point); this one orchestrated my last road trip, all my recent running, and a poem I wrote about a tree.
  • Jenny Lewis  “The Next Messiah”  Another long-ass song that feels like a saga and rocks like a hurricane. Oddly (or not?) I used to treadmill-run exclusively to this song. Jenny rules.
  • Bruce Cockburn  “Tie Me At The Crossroads”  Some perky action from Bruce. Me love.
  • Wasis Diop  “Toxu”  As you may know, Wasis Diop is a genius.
  • Queen  “Rock It (Prime Jive)”  Every Queen song is my favorite, but this one is…prime jive.
  • The Spencer Davis Group  “Gimme Some Lovin'”  Yes, please do gimme some lovin’. I have a serious crush on Steve Winwood. No shame.
  • Suzanne Teng  “Lhasa Love”  I can’t even explain how much I geek out to this song. It’s pure exuberance for life.
  • Robyn  “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do”  Because DON’T.
  • Traveling Wilburys  “End of the Line”  Guaranteed to lift your spirits. Just think about ’em – Tom, Bob, Jeff, and George – jamming out on that train with Roy’s guitar in the rocking chair. Bittersweet. Love you guys.
  • Meat Loaf  “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”  This song, plus Roger Waters’ double disc live album, got me through more than one tax season. This song. Nothing beats it. I mean, nothing MEATS it. Oh!
  • Billy Idol  “Dancing With Myself”  Title of my Autobiography.
  • Jackson Browne  “Here Come Those Tears Again”  I wish I could sing like Bonnie Raitt and Rosemary Butler and belt out that chorus. Okay sometimes when I’m on a long road trip alone and I’m listening to this song, I totally do. Badly.

Go to Songs for the Weary on 8tracks, courtesy of Superhermit (me). Or listen right here:

Photo from Unsplash

mixtapes

Last Autumn I reviewed Rebecca Alexander’s book The Secrets of Life and Deathloved it. This sequel is just as good, maybe even better. I don’t how it’s possible to describe an urban fantasy tale of revenants, werewolves and dark family secrets as “cozy” but oops – I did anyway. Both of Alexander’s books share the same earthy, cuppa-tea, toast-on-the-hearth, wool-shawled goodness – with a vampire and a warding sigil or two tossed in for suspense. There’s even a magic garden this time!

So we’re back with Jack, Sadie and Maggie, holed up –  after Book One’s harrowing battle with the bloodthirsty Countess Elizabeth Báthory – at a burned-out Cottage in England’s Lake District. Cheers to Alexander for a sequel that doesn’t waste time “reviewing events” of the previous novel or info-dumping to catch up the reader (not needed – at least not for me – or perhaps deftly not obvious?). We’re dropped into the twisty mystery right off: someone has killed the previous owner of Bee Cottage, probably because she was a hedge witch in possession of a spell book that holds the secrets of an immortality elixir. No doubt the killer’s part of the ominous Dannick family next door, whose youngest member Callum is dying.

Meanwhile! Felix is off in New Orleans (spurned by Jack, who’s afraid of her love for him and her potential to become a vampire) investigating creepy blood drinking cults to find a cure for Jack’s increasing – well, is it vitality or demonic possession? And – like the first book, this one also follows the 16th century adventures (misadventures?) of the God-fearing Edward Kelley, who’s in Venice investigating a wolfish human family, the ancestors of the Dannicks. And later, he winds up hunting his nemesis Báthory, while in present day, Jack begins to understand her own horrible fate.

There’s much more – a pet raven, masked balls, wild wolf packs, Sadie’s mystical and physical connection to the garden. Things get a bit convoluted with muddled theories of magical genetic inheritance (I couldn’t quite reconcile myself to that – it’s either magic or it’s science and I’m a tough bird to convince the two can be literally or fictionally combined unless everybody’s mistaking one for the other, which isn’t the deal here…I don’t think), and I wish Felix and Maggie’s characters were more developed, but none of this derailed the story or the suspense.

I didn’t realize, until almost near the end of The Secrets of Blood and Bone, that what I appreciate most about Alexander’s books is this: they’re about resourceful women who look out for each other. Women who are imperfect, kindhearted, often fragile, stubborn, bound to the natural world, and quietly (or sometimes loudly) heroic. Where are more novels like this? I’m waiting for Book Three…

I received a copy of this book as a free ARC from Netgalley.

book reviews

“Scale Wing” is, though I didn’t know it at the time I wrote it, kind of a “found” poem. While I’ve never considered myself a found poetry writer (see my PoMoSco fail), I do tend to incorporate the gleanings of eavesdropping and conversation into all my writings. Here, a friend’s story about trying to explain the theory of flight to a small child became my poem about (re)connecting to the natural world. I am still trying to understand the physics of flight – human and moth.

I’m super excited to be included in the Prairie Mountain regional issue of Up the Staircase Quarterly. This is a special publication of writers, artists, photographers (and a musician too!) living in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. I just realized that I’ve lived in half of these states at one point in my life!

You can read “Scale Wing” here.  It’s a beautiful issue, so do linger a while on Prairie Mountain and read everybody’s work. My thanks to the Editor, April Michelle Bratten, for including me. And thanks to you, dear readers.

 

Hummingbird Moth photo By Andrea Westmoreland from DeLand, United States (Hummingbird Moth in Flight) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

read me

For July’s 2015 Document Watch Project pick, I took a friend’s suggestion and watched a Rockumentary! Yes, I’m fully aware that Nina Simone doesn’t fit into the “rock music” genre. Nina does rock, though. Confession: Growing up, I had virtually nobody to school me in the ways of cool music. I had to get there on my own through roundabout channels. The first time I heard Nina Simone was when I saw the movie Point of No Return with Bridget Fonda in 1993. Thus began my infinite love for Nina Simone’s voice and my fascination with assassin films.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 8.22.36 AMThe first Nina Simone album I bought was At the Village Gate. I have no idea why I didn’t grab one of the many greatest hits collections (I think I’ve said before I’m no purist) but I’m so glad I picked a live one. Hearing Nina perform live – even if it’s a recording on a CD – is life-altering. There’s no holding her back – blues, jazz, folk, hymns, Bee Gees covers – she can do anything, and she does it her way.

 

Sometimes I sound like gravel, and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.  – Nina Simone

So, going into this “Netflix Original” film, I knew a bit about the life of Nina Simone, aka Eunice Waymon, but nowhere near enough. I knew she played piano from a very early age, a performer at the get-go. I knew she went to Juilliard, aligned with the Black Power movement, and ended up living in France for the last part of her life. Everything else about her came to me through her songs.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is a biographical documentary jampacked with photos, videos (that clip of Simone performing for a young Hugh Hefner and his bunnies at the Playboy Mansion – whoa), music – of course music – and even her diary excerpts. Interviews with Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly (herself an executive producer of the film) and guitarist and friend Al Schackman provide emotional, revealing truths. The arc of her story – from small town North Carolina to Atlantic City to Newport to Carnegie Hall to the Liberian coast – is spellbinding, not to mention her life’s intertwining with the Civil Rights movement, her abusive marriage to ex-cop turned manager Andy Stroud, and her struggle with bipolar disorder. It’s not fair that Miss Simone is no longer here to speak for herself – though yes, she does, through her music – but Liz Garbus’ documentary does an outstanding job of bringing Simone’s many interviews and journal writing to the forefront.

How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?  – Nina Simone

Because Nina had a lot to say – she was ferocious; whether striding across a stage inciting riotous revolution or calmly sitting at her piano singing about love. I know that’s why I’m drawn to her – that fire of creativity in the heart of her that burned through the delicate veil between dazzling genius and self-destructive madness. It’s tempting to write that Nina’s talent was otherworldly, but I’m more compelled to say that her music is the best of our world.

 

La chanteuse américaine Nina Simone en concert à Morlaix (Bretagne, France) en mai 1982. “Nina Simone14” by Roland Godefroy – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

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