Monthly Archives: June 2013

Songlines

Songlines coverSonglines
By Jen Minkman
CreateSpace
15 March 2013

Poetry! Songlines is a short—less than thirty pages!—chapbook by Jen Minkman, and I must admit that while I was surprised at the length of the collection, I was also somewhat relieved that it wasn’t page after page and poem after poem. Poetry isn’t like novel-length fiction; it requires a reader to sit with each piece, take it in little by little, and reread in order to capture undiscovered meanings in each line. For many people, poetry is intimidating, but I’m happy to say that while the depth of the poems in Songlines may take serious concentration, the length of the collection balances out any exhaustion I may have felt after reading poem upon poem.

At the beginning of the collection, Minkman writes about the title, “The aborigines of Australia use Dreaming tracks or Songlines to find their way across vast expanses of land. Words in these songs describe natural landmarks originally created by the gods in the song, and the songs must be sung regularly in order to keep the land alive. Likewise, the poems in this book mark my walk of life and should be written, read, and re-read in order to keep my soul alive and help me find my way.”

Before coming upon this chapbook, I had never heard of Songlines or Dreaming tracks, and while this collection isn’t poetry about the Australian aborigines (and if it was, I would be extremely skeptical since the poet herself is from the Netherlands, not Australia), it sparked my interest in learning more about their culture and history.

I’m not sure how the paperback version of Songlines is formatted, but in the Kindle version, it’s difficult at times to figure out the poem’s titles (or even if they are titled). I really liked “Uprooted”, and I could relate to the shorter of her poems—though none are epics—because they often centered around a single, bright image instead of meandering from thought to thought.

There is one poem, “23rd of June”, written by Minkman’s father on the occasion of her wedding, and one poem, “Engel”, written in German and translated into English on the following page, though it’s not clear to me whether Minkman wrote the original German poem and its translation, or if she only wrote the translation. Either way, I like “Engel” better in German.

DISCLAIMER: I received an ebook copy of Songlines free from the author. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

No Kidding

No Kidding coverNo Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood
Edited by Henriette Mantel
Seal Press
16 April 2013

I knew in high school that I didn’t want kids. Like, I never want them. Ever. I don’t like kids; I don’t like babies; I don’t like diapers and other baby things. I don’t like kids’ toys, and I don’t like stepping on Legos in bare feet in the middle of the night. I don’t even like holding babies, and I could tell you stories about the times I’ve declined to hold someone else’s child (seriously, though—who wants that kind of responsibility?) and then have had that person look at me like I have two heads. Usually, I have to give some excuse that the mother (or, at times, the father) will accept, like, “Oh, no, I couldn’t. I’m getting over a cold, and I don’t want your darling to catch anything from me!” Secretly, though, I don’t want to catch anything from it. Babies fucking terrify me. And kids aren’t much better; they’re just creepy small adults that hang out in elevators and harass adults who are already going off the deep end by saying things like, “Come plaaaaaay with us.” Yeah, no thanks; I’ll take the stairs.

Of course, being a woman and all, I’ve gotten every response from “Oh, you’re too young to really know if you want kids yet; you’ll change your mind when you’re older” to “You’re biological clock will start ticking and then you’ll start nesting” to “But… you’re a woman!” You know, as if that’s some kind of argument for ever having children. I was super excited when the publisher of No Kidding kindly sent me an ebook copy of the book so that I could relate (and commiserate) for myself.

Each essay is—by turns—funny, poignant, and inspirational. Many of the writers knew from the get-go that they would never have children; some of them kept expecting it would happen at “the right time” and “the right time” never came. Some of the women wanted children and then, they decided, they wanted other life-goals more. Sometimes, it turns out, having kids just isn’t on a woman’s bucket list. One essay suggested that “the generative impulse could be expressed in other ways, such as passing ideas on to the younger generation through teaching, writing, or inspiring by example… Some days I feel like the harder choice is not to have a kid” (italics in the original).

Another women wrote in her essay, “I’d finally learned the secret to get people to stop insisting, ‘You’ll eventually want kids.’ I just had to lie about it.” Instead, she began to tearfully admit that she wasn’t able to have children, the other person (or people) would say something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” and that would thankfully be the end of it. She was surprised to learn that many of the men she date just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) believe she didn’t want kids. They’d even argue with her about it. (Really? What happened to bodily autonomy, right?)

I really enjoyed reading No Kidding, and I recommend it to any woman who doesn’t want children. And, I recommend it as a gift for anyone else who thinks that you just have to want children and that you really haven’t made up your mind yet. No Kidding doesn’t tell you not to have kids if you want them, but it will help you feel less alone in the wide world of procreation if you don’t.

DISCLAIMER: I received an ebook copy of No Kidding free from Seal Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

It’s a touchy subject

Sometime back in late April or thereabouts, my best friend mentioned that his brother was flying out of LAX for a trip somewhere. I asked, “How does he have money to fly places, honestly?” It seemed to me he was flying off someplace every other weekend, and—I admit—it irked me.

“Well, how much disposable income did you have during college?” he asked in return. I snorted a laugh before I could stop myself.

“None,” I said, and I bit my lip before saying more and making it all about me, again. I wanted to say, Why do you think I’m up to my eyeballs in credit card debt now?, but I didn’t. I wanted to explain again how I didn’t have money just falling off the tree like he and his brothers seem to have, and that was okay (not everyone is rich, obviously), but that he needed to check his privilege and stop assuming everyone’s had the kind of funds he’s had. I didn’t want to get into it, though, so I held my tongue.

He raised his eyebrows. I was driving, but I glanced over in time to see him purse his lips, as though he wasn’t saying something, too. What were we holding back? Well, I knew what I wasn’t saying, but what wasn’t he saying? I frowned, but the moment passed.

“I know your parents couldn’t pay for as much—” he started, but I cut him off, irritated.

“My parents helped me as much as they could, but I have loans, now, so… no, I didn’t have much money at my disposal.”

It’s always the money, for me. It’s a touchy subject. Turns out it’s difficult to do much in a world that runs on money when you don’t have any. Maybe it should be more about “knowing people” and “networking” (gods, I hate buzzwords), but I’m not exactly extroverted or a “Let’s hang out sometime this weekend!” kind of person, even with people I actually consider my friends.

I realized then, again, as I was turning onto a side street towards my parents’ house, that I resent others who’ve had a more well-to-do upbringing than I have, and trust me—I’m hardly at the bottom of the barrel. I realized that I feel entitled to things I don’t already have because I grew up in the type of community that gives its children everything it can afford… and my parents couldn’t afford much. And I realized that my feeling entitled is the problem, not that my best friend’s brother wastes his money on stupid shit like flying up to San Francisco for the weekend. Plenty of people could (and do, when they get the chance) argue that I “waste” what little money I have on “stupid shit”, too, and obviously, our priorities are different.

My best friend still gets an allowance, and he’s never really had to worry about how he’s getting back up to Montana for work or school. His parents always come through for him, and they probably think they’re doing right by him. Maybe they are, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to deny him something I could feasibly provide for him, either, but that doesn’t make me any more patient when he fusses about how little he can actually do with “only” $80 per month.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to make ends meet with therapy and doctor’s visits, and the cavity that was discovered at an appointment a few weeks ago is just right out. I’ll just have to deal with a painful mouth for a while (probably a long while) because I honest-to-gods truly can’t afford a crown or filling at this point in my life, even with medical insurance, which I have. And you know what? That’s just sad. I know; I know that dentistry is a first-world privilege, so to speak, and my not being able to pay for it is a first-world problem. I know that.

Part of the reason I dislike going over to my best friend’s house, even, is that the brothers… they’re just so obviously spoiled. It irritates me how spoiled they are, and I’m saying that as a person who considers herself relatively spoiled. I mean, honestly. (My own family has its own problems, but at least it’s mostly things I can understand. With my best friend’s family? What-the-hell-ever.)

I guess some people (my mother cough cough) would tell me to count my blessings: I can afford the therapy I need, even if funds are tight. I can pay the bills I have, even if I keep racking them up because my teeth are falling apart or I suddenly get tendonitis in my writing arm. I do have a roof over my head. I mean, it could be worse, right?

Well, of course it could be worse. It could always be worse. That doesn’t mean what I’m dealing with now is easy, or is less painful, or is worth less just because I’m not at the bottom of the barrel. If I was at the bottom of the barrel, I would kill myself and be done with it. But there’s so much further I could fall that I still have to seriously weigh the options before I take a giant leap into the unknown like that.

It’s said that money can’t buy happiness. Obviously, whoever said that was never poor; he or she never had no money. That saying is bullshit. I may not be any happier with money, but at least with it I would be able to think about something else.

I’ve Got Your Back

I've Got Your Back (cover)I’ve Got Your Back: A Leadership Parable
By James C. Galvin
Tenth Power Publishing
29 September 2012

I like stories. I like learning things from stories. You’d think that I’d like this book, which purports to be a parable about leaders and followers. It’s split into two sections: the parable (140 pages), and the reference guide (62 pages). In the introduction, the author says, “You can read either section [of this book] first. Some will want to start with the story and others will want to start with the final section. It’s not cheating to read the final section first. It’s not wrong to only read the story.” Well, with permission like that, what have I got to lose, right?

So, because I like stories (and I honestly wasn’t sure if I could get through the second section if I read it first), I dove right into the parable. It follows four twenty-somethings (Randall, Valerie, Brad, and Lynette) who meet up with a former Army Special Forces sergeant and former missionary, Jack. All four of these young people have issues with their respective bosses, and when they start learning from Jack about the principles of biblical leadership (and “followership”), things go from bad to worse.

I was first disappointed less than 25 pages into the story. While at a Bible study, the four young people are discussing the difference between submitting to authority and being a submissive person, and how to deal with bad bosses. Valerie flips back her hair and, smiling, says, “I’m no militant feminist, but…” and I wanted to just throw the book across the room and be done with it on the spot.

When I could pick up the book again without possibly damaging my wall with it, I began reading more closely. Randall says, “We can also agree that we should obey the laws of the land. But we are all having trouble with the idea of submitting to a bad boss.” And I thought to myself, The ‘laws of land’ really means the entity that enforces those laws, and that means the government. So what happens when the government is the ‘bad boss’, then? And/or visa versa. There’s so much that can be unpacked just in these two sentences, and I was already put off by the “militant feminist” comment. Honestly, even if you find nothing wrong with these two tiny excerpts, it just gets worse from there.

I agree that if Jesus wrote a book about leadership today, he’d write a parable. But Jesus didn’t even write the book (or, the Book, if you prefer) when he was alive; he left that to his followers for much later. (The Book of Matthew, for example, was probably written sometime between 70 and 110 CE, at least forty years after Jesus’ death. The Book of Luke could’ve been written as early as 60 CE, but that’s still almost thirty years after the crucifixion/resurrection is supposed to have happened.)

So, I’ve Got Your Back‘s main premise, that Jesus would write a parable if he was living today (with the implication that this is the parable that he’d write), is flawed already. Jesus, as far as anyone can tell, just lived it, and other people wrote about it. He didn’t have time for writing about it, apparently. There is something to be said for the people who did write it down, though, since without them, Jesus’ story might well have been lost. (Which, I suppose, may not have have been that bad, but that’s neither here nor there in relation to this review.) As with many books I read, I think the idea is a good one, but the execution is less-than-stellar.

DISCLAIMER: I received I’ve Got Your Back: A Leadership Parable free from Handlebar Central for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.