Archive for September, 2010
I spent the night in Fort Worth last night in order to hear an old hero, Amy Tan, speak at the John Roach Honors College at TCU. I looked this afternoon to see if any other media outlet had covered the story yet, but apparently Renaissance will be the first. Scoop, I hope.
Amy Tan, famous for writing bestsellers such as The Joy Luck Club and Kitchen God’s Wife, was one of my greatest writer-heroes when I was an undergraduate at UC Irvine. Writing with a San Francisco viewpoint and about Chinese characters, she seemed both exotic and familiar to me, born in Berkeley, on the other side of the bay. In 1989 I wrote a newspaper promo piece for her visit to UC Irvine,, and then fell in love with her work, particularly Kitchen God. When Pia said she had tickets, I had to go.
Tan appared in a flowing red and purple garment, with jet black hair and red lipstick. She got up on the stage with the air of someone who did this naturally– as if she thought to herself, “regale a bunch of well wishers with stories chosen at random and by plan? Easy.” Of course, I knew that giving us something worth our time was not guaranteed. I was apprehensive. What if it turned out only to be a paper moon? What if Tan no longer had anything to say, had said it all?
She opened bytelling us it amazed her, the number and level of her successes — as she put it, she’s really just a normal person like the rest of us, “sitting around fooling with the internet.” She described reading a biography and said it was unreal. “Not that the stuff it says is not true, it just isn’t how I would have put it.” She also reflected briefly on facing an edition of Cliff’s Notes on her work — “Aren’t you supposed to be dead before they do one of these on you?” she asked us. But then, she admitted, her very coming up with that question illustrates something she’s known for a while, that she has a tendency to “dwell on death.”
Reading only Kitchen God and Joy Luck I didn’t see that so much, but then a friend who read Saving Fish from Drowning said it had a lot of darkness.
The talk quickly settled down to a discourse on how she became a writer and why she writes the way she does. Tragedy, she said, was there from before the beginning. The deaths of her father and brother while she was still a teenager, both to brain tumors, both scarred her and drove her mother into a quest to “find out why” they had died. The need to dig deeper, Tan said, and “find out why” has driven her as well. As a writer she came to ask more and more questions about her relationship with her mother. Tan also dug into what happened to her grandmother, who died mysteriously back in China and who seems to resemble the “Double Second” concubine wife of Kitchen God’s Wife.
This person in a red and purple chiffon, speaking unconcernedly into a microphone, is the woman who wrote one of the few books I have read over and over and over, Kitchen God. How many times did I repeat her refrain from that book, “That Bad Man, my first husband … “ In my heart, I am the Kitchen God’s Wife, the good person whose life was almost ruined by others, who somehow managed to live and go on contributing nevertheless.
Tan graciously answered questions after the talk, and sat at a table and signed books for hundreds, despite a hurt thumb (she had slammed it in the car door; she reflected, ‘I didn’t know the door could go all the way shut with your thumb in there.’ Someone came up to College Girl as she stood in line and gave her two books — the two I wanted to read, Bonesetter’s Daughter and The Opposite of Fate. I tried to take Tan’s picture as she sat, signing books, and I noticed that she’d cut her hair. There still clung about her a mystery, an aloof friendliness, a generosity and also a reserve. She seemed, even as she’d admitted that huge tracts of her greatest fiction was built upon a foundation of her own family history, to be someone hard to know, and I couldn’t manage her close friends telling her about all the secrets they shared. She’s already shared so many secrets with the public. This was the price of fame. Pia dragged me away, she was embarrased at her mother shooting pictures. She didn’t seem to realize we needed them for this blog post.
As we walked away with the books, chattering about how unbelieveable it was that we had been handed them, as if some serendipty had come upon us like a wave, we walked past a huge black Lincoln Towncar limo.
Who is that for? I asked a security guard who was helping people cross the street.
“Ms. Tan,” he said, “of course.”
We walked away into the night. “If I could, I would have a driver,” Pia told me. “I hate driving. I would have a driver, and they’d be safe, too, the most highly skilled driver I could find … “
“The Opposite of Fate,” I mused. “Let me read that book. That’s the book I want to read.” I wondered if it would answer the questions I have, or drive me, like Tan, to dig until I found something profound, to dig until I found my truth. If so, it seemed a worthy mission. I reflected that Tan had pulled it off: coming to Texas to speak to admirers who already knew her well through her writing, she’d dug deeper, found something more to share, and offered it up, a writer’s writer, we might call her, and a stranger’s friend. `
“Mi corazon esta colgando en tus manos:” “My heart is hanging from your hands .. ” Perhaps I’ll add a translation of the rest later, after I finish lesson planning.
This is one of the songs I learned from listening to La Mega Mezcla 107.5. Carlos Baute, a singer from Venezuela who now is based in Spain, was once a fashion model and if you watch the video you will believe it. Nevertheless, he can really sing, and this is a touching and heartfelt song, even better than his duet rendition with Marta Sanchez which they play on the radio.
A memory from childhood (this is a rehearsal to presenting the story to my class of second graders)
When I was young, we lived in Berkeley, California. It was the tradition in those days to let kids as young as five play outside, around the house and up and down in the street, and my brothers and I wandered far enough to discover, in a vacant lot about a block away, a forest of bamboo growing in the middle of the city. We would go down there often, hide among the stalks, and pretend that we were on a desert island far far away.
The bamboo was green and shiny, and we soon saw that it looked the same as the flutes we had seen for sale on the street in Chinatown. Our parents wouldn’t give us money to buy flutes when we asked, but here was something far better: we could make our own flutes, right there on our deserted island. It would be easy. All we needed was some knives.
Of course we didn’t have knives. But we knew where there were some. We had seen plenty of them in the knife drawer in the kitchen at the house. Of course they were as much ours as our mom’s. But she wouldn’t understand that. So we waited until she was out of the way, then went in and got two paring knives and hurried back to the bamboo forest.
It wasn’t hard to cut the bamboo stalks with the knives, but there was another problem. Our flutes didn’t make notes like the ones from Chinatown! You blew through them and all that happened was the sound of your breath coming out. You had to hum in them, like they were kazoos. It was a dissapointment. Nevertheless, we had made them ourselves, from natural resources we had found and collected right in our neighborhood. We felt plenty smart as we came trundling home and hid around the corner of the house.
We were planning on whittling some more of the bamboo which we had carried back from the forest, but then the not-completely unexpected happened: Mom found us. She was not amused by our bamboo creativity at all. We knew what was next. Out came the wooden spoon, used for spanking. She spanked us all, with a stern look on her face.
I walked away, rubbing my rear end, and said, “It was worth it.” And that is the end of the story of the bamboo forest.
The International cost of living Blog says Fort Worth’s COL is low – but then they haven’t considered our high property taxes and low home appreciation rates, and modest salaries. The truth is Fort Worth is cheap for people who already have money or are getting paid elsewhere, such as for a retirement fund, but for everyday families I’m not so sure … but here’s the report … Meanwhile, the blogger at Infinite Journey returns to Fort Worth after 50 years and reflects … In the Natural Gas Science, thousands of Americans are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a comprehensive study of the environmental and health threats of natural gas fracturing, according to Texas Green Report … Brown Eye, Blue Eye is mostly pictures of dogs. …
In Food, Fort Worth Hole in the Wall reviews Salsa Fuego … finally, This Eclectic Life is doing a “Fall Overhaul,” sort of a spring cleaning. In fall.
This was a case of just picking up a novel which was lying around the house and opening it, thinking it was mildly interesting, and going on. The book, by famous Canadian writer L.M. Montgomery, is the last of the Ann of Green Gables series, and treats of Anne’s daughter Rilla who comes of age in 1914, at the beginning of the Great War.
It was the author’s voice that caught me, that and the opening discursive description of a group of middle aged women sitting reading the society pages of the paper on a weekday afternoon before dinner. I was struck by the very novelty of having so much time and so little reading material. Certainly these were women who wore long dresses — you could tell by the way they spoke, somehow.
Rilla, a girl of 15, comes on the scene frantic that her first dance will be ruined by bad weather. But when news of England’s declaration of war comes in the middle of the soirie, a much bigger obstacle for Rilla’s successful entry into society arrives: all the boys begin to enlist and be shipped overseas.
Though enough happens in this book to keep it moving forward, it’s more driven by a meditation on women’s world and the home front in the early part of the 20th century. Heroic women “keep the home fires burning,” deal with various crisises as they arise, and live on the edge of their seats for four years as news from the war comes slowly and husbands, lovers, sons and brothers are in danger.
What struck me was the mentality about the war. The men had to go, they felt, it was their duty to defend the home turf. The women, while feeling upset about this decision, do not question it — they feel that it is necessary to turn back the hated Kaiser and free the French before the Germans take over France and England too, then start sailing for the New World. Certain resentment is tendered toward the Americans, for waiting until the last year to arrive, and as the book ends little attention is given to the American effort to finish the job that others had begun. More than anything, the book was a meditation on nobility of character and duty to one’s family, society and country. It is a porthole into a world long before Vietnam and the modern questioning of whether any war is “worth it.” For these Canadian patriots, deciding whether to go to war wasn’t a question of how to get a better life, but of feeling at peace with yourself for doing what you knew was your duty.
My own great grandfather died on the battlefield in France, having joined the army at age 35 to get away, it was said, from his ex-wife (a terrific scandal in those days, being divorced). The family story of a man driven to enlist and get himself killed in flight from an unfortunate home life is a far cry from Montgomery’s world of Prince Edward Island in the teens. Which story is true? What were people really like? I’m sure we all realize that stories are always colored by attitudes and rhetorical flourishes, but nevertheless there is unquestionably something attractive and real about Montgomery’s plucky and noble heroines. And I believe, on reflection, that this novel gives us a romanticized but realistic picture of the thoughts of the denizens of another age. Well worth the read.
It was a quiet week inFortworthbegone …. but in a city of almost a million, a few things will keep happening.
Ponderings, Wanderings, and Blunderings lets us know that there is a new coffee shop in town … Starbucks isn’t giving up so easily to the new competition … they will be giving away a free breakfast sandwich this month, according to Frugal in Fort Worth …
Some tourists from out of town visit the Stockyards, see the rodeo, eat at Love Shack and find a car painted half-taxi, half police cruiser …
Brown Eye, Blue Eye tags a touching video about marriage … Ellie at Chronotopia is comparing small towns on boths ides of the Atlantic … and Food and Fort Worth announces a bookstore opening at the Amon Carter Museum with refreshments from Aduro Bean Coffee and Artisan Bakery.
I was warming up for DFW on the Web this Week when I came across a rather disturbing blog post (linked by @vedo’s Next Communications blog) heralding what it called “Digital Darwinism.” The post argues that digital media is changing the way we think and socialize, and may ultimately kill off longer forms of writing:
There’s a saying, “technology changes, people don’t.” Yet, when we consider the impact of technology on our daily lives, some very interesting observations surface…A pen now feels awkward to hold and as such, our penmanship is deteriorating. It’s now common to sit at a dinner table with family and friends where some are actively communicating with others, listening to music or gaming via mobile devices … The future of the art of long form writing is at risk of becoming shrtr and less formal #forrealz …
First: before we “write off” handwriting, as a teacher, I want everyone to know: handwriting is back in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for elementary students. The Texas Education Agency has decided that handwriting is important for knowledge processing and this year I and other Texas teachers will begin to re-emphasize it. This is because, technology or no, at the current time there is no cognitavely equivalent replacement for taking notes by hand. Writing it down makes you think more clearly … tweeting, at least for now, may or may not.
Secondly, it’s true, people sit around at meetings (not at my dinner table if they want to eat) and SMS message other people. But meanwhile I notice that teenagers do not sit around for hours on the telephone, as we did. SMS simply replaces the phone-to-the-ear syndrome. And people who SMS others while in class or meetings are simply rude. We do not put up with that in schools and I’m hoping that other places will soon follow suit. SMSing people while you’re supposed to be listening is cognitively dysfunctional. You can’t sit there texting people and comprehend a speaker as well. If Digital Darwinism means survival of the intellectually fittest, behaviors which actually make you slightly dumber shouldn’t survive, right?
As for the people losing the ability to read long works, such as novels, I do believe we read less now than we used to — it’s been going on for decades. That does not mean the long form of writing is dying out. Reading was endangered more than anything else by the arrival of TV. Today, with surfing the internet, reading is at least basically important to communication in a way it wasn’t twenty five years ago. And novels, while they may be less popular than they were, are not going away completely. It takes relatively little resources to produce and maintain a novel reading culture within the greater one. The number of novel readers may be shrinking, but we are not going away.
So, to recap: knowing things in the “old fashioned” way, by reading and writing well edited and thought-out works, is not going to go away just because we can SMS or tweet clever and not-so-clever thoughts when we have them. The future still belongs to those who can think. Social media may be a boon or a burden on human cognition, but it’s not going to replace “traditional” modes of constructing meaning. Not IMHO, anyway, and with that, I’ll close this blog post before it reaches 600 words.
It did have something to do with going down to the Fort to help College Girl clean out the old house and taking about a dozen black garbage bags to the dump, only to find out that the entire Fort Worth Dump enterprise had been cancelled for an “employee furlough day.” Yes, that is right. Labor Day weekend, some of us need to clean out the garage, side yard or whatever, but the City of Fort Worth cannot pay its bills, so it gives employees an unpaid day off on a Saturday and I have to drag all the half-ripped garbage bags back out of the Suburban, pile them in the side yard again, and plan to come back later.
I go to Twitter and read a few posts, and @LizardDawg is writing that we need to “take back what Obama has given away.” Tell me, @LizardDog, are you referring to Obama being responsible for taking away the dump operating hours? No, you can’t mean that. It must be the mayor, Mike Moncreif, and the City Council who did this. They also closed all our public pools this summer, then said, “well, you can just go to the YMCA if you don’t have a pool.”
Now, the suburbs, for whatever reason, have not been driven to such an extremity. Denton has a beautiful public pool with a waterslide and friendly lifeguards and shade and a snack bar. And there’s other stuff, such as a school orchestra for my 5th grader. The Denton dump was open today (only until noon; I suppose Dentonites are earlier risers than the Fort Worthians, who may have been whooping it up at Billy Bob’s the night before and therefore unable to reach the dump before afternoon) but by the time I realized that Fort Worth’s was closed, it was too late to hightail it back north.
When I got home, I decided to change this site’s name to DFW Renaissance. We still cover Fort Worth, particularly College Girl will have an angle, but Dean wants to review some arts performances in Denton, as well as some stuff in Dallas in addition to the operas he’s been covering. I knew it had to come to this, I was just uneasy about what people would say. Was I disloyal to my old friends? But no. Overall, it’s a win-win. We’re not abandoning Fort Worth, we’re … adding more of North Texas.
At any rate, now I’ve changed the masthead if not the URL. We are now, at least nominally, DFW Renaissance. I guess this means I should add some other DFW blogs to our blogroll. Stay tuned; I will see what I can come up with.
- Playing Catch Up – TDO Reviews | The Dallas Opera Blog on TDO’s New Magic Flute Bound to be a Crowd Pleaser
- Pia on (If) I detest Facebook (Why Do I Still Have A Profile?)
- The Critics Weigh-In on LA TRAVIATA | The Dallas Opera Blog on Soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu Scores a Victory with TDO’s Traviata
- Dean Cassella on (If) I detest Facebook (Why Do I Still Have A Profile?)
- The Doobie Brothers – What a fool believes | TrendSurfer on Reflection on What a Fool Believes, 1979