Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Eating the Elephant

You know those times when you're played out, there are tire tracks across your face, and you just can't seem to reach the itch in the middle of your back where the silverware is poking out? Yeah. That time.

It's the middle of the American Ninja finals. You're reaching up to grab the next ring to heave yourself up. It's raining and your energy is flagging. Your muscles are discussing a mutiny. The announcer has given you a vote of no confidence and a dorky nickname. You know if you don't get moving, you'll plunge into the giant vat of ice water and your dreams will be over.

Your kid has just told you he doesn't plan on making any of your dreams for him come true. He's got his own life to live. You have no information he can use and he wants you out of his purple dreadlocked hair. He's taking his stuff and finding an apartment with three of his loser buddies. Oh but you can hold onto the junk he doesn't want right now.

You've just come from a particularly difficult class, the one you're teaching that contains all the delinquents in the school, somehow. The one you have to teach or you don't get to keep your job. You can't do a thing about their insolence, and they know it. They've taken the ship and cast you adrift in the dingy.

Your dog has decided she no longer thinks you're her sun, moon, and stars. She wouldn't come running to you if you tied a steak around your neck and slathered it in gravy. You tried to clip her toenails and she detests you for it. You thought she was the one being on earth who would love you through the Last Big Bang. Sadly, your happy partnership barely made it past the fourth season of Big Bang Theory.

You've auditioned for the most cherry role of your life--the part you've been dying to play since the womb. You, with your spiffy new wardrobe, whitened teeth, pasted on smile, and your stomach in Gordian knots, check the boards after an entire night of hopeful pacing. You are (wait for it. Drum roll...) the understudy's understudy.

I could go on ad infinitum, but you've got ten stories just as discouraging boiling around in your gut at this moment. Everyone does. There are always going to be disappointments and mistakes, foibles and fallacies, misunderstandings and shortfalls. It's life.

How many times do we look at others and only see the part where they hit the finish button to become the fastest, the brightest, the strongest, the most beautiful, the best? Look, there goes Suzie Homemaker with her ten perfect children all lined up in their matching self-sewn outfits to take the widows in their neighborhood loaves of homemade bread and chokecherry jelly? We don't see the long line of failures in their wake.

We don't see that she actually has twelve kids, but one of the boys ran off with a pole dancer and the middle daughter is pregnant with twins with no daddy in sight. We don't see the umpteen previous drafts before Jane Austen got Pride and Prejudice right. We miss the part where Shaq started playing basketball and couldn't hit the hoop to save his life.

So what's the difference between Shaq and Suzie and the rest of us losers (besides the six extra kids I'm not willing to have and a penchant for dribbling)?

Maybe it's vision. And drive. And a will to pay the price with years of hard work and sweat and tears. It's telling yourself, "I'm not that person. I'm more. I'm not going to settle for mediocrity. I'm worth the trouble." It's time to shake off the dust of other people's false impressions. It's time to break the mold, endure gracefully the polishing, and emerge shiny and new-made. It's what we really are.

Yeah. It's that time. Here's a spoon.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

LONGBOURN by the Apron Strings (a review)

I'm always on the hunt for fresh takes on Austen books. I have to say the playing field is about level between decent and pathetic. I've never found an Austen-ic book of her exquisite quality before, though some come close.

Recently I read LONGBOURN by Jo Baker. Because of a few problems, I have filed it in about the middle of the pack.


+This is Pride and Prejudice told from a servant's point of view.
+I enjoy the fresh take on the story. It's like looking at one of Queen Elizabeth's massive court dresses from the inside. Interesting.
+Hearing how the lower half lived and worked made me glad to be a modern woman with real choices. I'm more grateful for modern medicines and creams.
+I enjoyed knowing the otherwise invisible servant's thoughts and dreams and hopes.  I wanted to see things work out well for her. I wanted her to be able to find her love, get married, and have children.
+The book answered the same questions often running through my mind when I thought about Elizabeth's hems dragging 6 inches deep in mud or who would watch the children when the little nieces and nephews came to visit.
+The book was well-written and nicely edited.


--It's a very democratic, modern treatment. Jane didn't really concern herself with the below stairs people at all--nor did many of that time, Dickens excepting. We hear of the rich and the nearly rich. Servants were to be seen and not heard.
--There were several modern topics which took me completely out of the story because they were topics Austen would NEVER have broached (homosexuality, graphic violence, illegitimacy, and sex to name a few). I'm not saying the sex was discussed graphically, but the mention was there, as it was not in Austen.
--There was some bad language.  There is a way to write  without resorting to swearing because Jane herself did it, and I have done it, as have many other authors. It isn't needed. We have extremely well-developed imaginations when it comes to inserting bad language.
--At times I found myself echoing Jemima Rooper in LOST IN AUSTEN when she says, "Jane Austen would have been surprised to know she had written that."
--I felt at the end of the book Jo gave up on the story. She nearly flung Sarah down the road to hunt for James and catapulted them both back, as if the story was now in the point of view of someone else altogether. And she shows up with a baby. Where's the rest of the story, my friend?

I think one reason Austen never wrote about servants is that they are on the bottom of the social pond. There is very little lateral for bobbing around, down on the bottom. The Bennets are closer to the middle. They can marry up. They can make mistakes (such as Lydia's) which sink them to the bottom. It's a much more dynamic story.
Jo tells a story based on someone who really couldn't have married much further up without causing a massive scandal. And there isn't very far Sarah can fall, either.

For me, the language and adult themes really battered the story. I'm sure Ms. Baker could have found a way to introduce interest into her work without them, if her aim had truly been to .

My grade? A solid three out of five bonnets.