Thursday, February 24, 2011

STIR 1: Breath, Eyes Overall Impressions

I'm hoping to have three discussion posts on Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, the February STIR book. This post will feature overall impressions and I hope that fellow readers will comment with their personal responses, including an answer to the question, "If you own the book, what are you going to do with it now?" The second book will be about Haiti and what it means to be "a Haitian Novel" or "Haitian-American Literature" or part of the "Haitian Diaspora." I'm curious how being Haitian affected your reading of the book, how you responded to the Haiti vs. New York scenes, what other Haitian literature you've read and what in the world is up with the afterward. If you e-mail me your thoughts, I can include them in the main post, if not, you can add them in the comments. If I make it to a third post, it will be about the role of stars, the role of the sky and the role of religion in the book. Again, thoughts welcome in advance.
Breath, Eyes, Memory follows Sophie, a young girl, from her childhood in Haiti with her aunt, to her teen years in New York with her mother, and back to her grandmother in Haiti at a time of personal crisis. While men cause things to happen: they rape, they marry the wrong woman, they govern the country poorly, and they impregnate; the book is about the relationships among the women.
Both SalSis and I found the childhood section to be a fast, breezy read. Many of the descriptions triggered pleasant memories for SalSis, as she has spent time in Haiti, particularly among children. She was excited that she understood the creole, delighted when the descriptions matched children and events she had encountered and curious when details didn't jibe with her experience. I enjoyed this section more just wondering how it compared with the villages where SalSis has spent time.
Everything about B, E, M changes when Sophie hits New York (more on that with the Haiti-New York post) and our reactions did as well. I continued to read quickly (I read the book all one day), partially because the story is compelling and partially because I don't like to leave characters in uncomfortable situations, and the situations are plenty uncomfortable. When I did the math and realized that the member of the older generation who is shockingly pregnant is younger than I am, I cried some and reminded the Mister that if Rutherford is a girl child, she will be treated with great respect.
At that point I think the book became more of a squirm-inducing slog for Salsis, who felt relief at the inevitably unpleasant resolution.
I'm really unsure what I will do with my copy of the book. I won't re-read it, so I won't keep it. It is too well-written not to give to somebody, but most of my friends have limited enough reading time that I have a hard time recommending something that is somewhat painful to read, however well-written.
Thoughts from others?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In the future fig spot . . .

. . two daffodils are blooming. They're buried among overgrown honeysuckle and vinca, so it's hard to tell just what they are, but they are not any of the little early blooming types (February Gold, Tet a Tet, on any of the cyclamineus types*). We have regular daffodils blooming in mid-February, less than one week after sub-zero temperatures! This means their spot, along the south side of the brick garage, might actually be a great place to grow a fig. The crocus planted in the main** flower bed on the north side of the house aren't even visibly up.

*It seems that the kind people of the Scottish Heritage, USA and the National Junior Horticulture Society sent me to Scotland for a year to be tested on 40 cultivars of Narcissus over a few weeks so that I could return home and name five sixteen years later.
**Main Flower Bed = Future Flower Garden

Monday, February 14, 2011

A big heart for star dads

Based on the projects hanging on the wall at day care, there is a good chance that Dianthus could come home today with a heart-shaped card saying that he loves his mommy. There is a much much smaller chance that he'll come home with a card saying that he loves his daddy.
Last year at day care Dianthus "made" me a lovely Mother's Day card while Father's Day went unnoticed. In everyday sets of baby socks, you'll find some with "Mommy loves me" made into a pattern. I've never seen any "Daddy loves me" socks mixed in with the stripes and monkeys.
This makes me sad. I understand that children are statistically way more likely to be with their mothers than their fathers (a state of society that also makes me sad), but I hate seeing the huge quantities of love that exists between fathers and their children go unrecognized. Admittedly, the Mister doesn't actually want a card made by one of the day care teachers with Dianthus's scribbles on it, but given that it is the Mister who does 70% of the interacting at daycare, who adjusts his schedule when Dianthus is sick, and brings in the supplies when the diapers and wipes run out; I wish the day care were at least able to acknowledge that he deserves a card as much as I do.
While I can't change the state of society, I can remind those of you who also have star dads to tell them you love them, and can remind those of you who know star fathers (like my brother, the Mister, my FiL and many of my friends' husbands) to let them know how much good fathering is appreciated.
Papa, I love you.
The Mister, Dianthus loves you (and so do I). Thanks for being a great daddy.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pregnancy Pains for the Non-Pregnant

As I was checking to make sure I just had some sort of weird three-day excruciating-pain leg cramp, rather than a blood clot in my calf,* The Mister asked if blood clots were a real concern. I pointed out that pregnant women are about five times more likely to have a blood clot than non-pregnant women, and the rates for women who have just given birth are even higher**. The Mister replied, "Pregnancy can be really dangerous and painful, why don't people know this?"

When I suggested that this is known, he corrected that anyone who reads classic literature knows that women died in childbirth in the "old days", but modern pregnancy is more of a humorous inconvenience dominated by strange food cravings than a potentially lethal condition.

So, as my part of my mother's plan to talk about things that we don't talk about***, I offer some thoughts on pregnancy aimed not so much at my friends who might experience this in the near future, but at all of the non-pregnant folks who have to deal with the pregnant.

Pregnancies vary a lot. I've given up trying to commiserate with other pregnant women or women who have been pregnant because it seems sometimes there is nothing in common. Zits? Lovely glowing skin? Creative frenzy? Inability to do a thing? Raging sex drive? Recoiling from even a platonic touch? Super hunger? Aversion to all foodstuffs? Constipation? Diarrhea? I've known women who have had them all, and many who assume that her body's reaction is therefore the norm. Rutherford Robinia (current bun) is doing way different things to my body than Dianthus did, and I'm the same me and they have the same father.

"Morning Sickness" is misnamed. Of the many women I've talked to about early pregnancy queasiness, exactly one vomited regularly in the morning. One threw up twice a day for two months but felt fine and ate full meals immediately afterward. Another couldn't keep anything down anytime for six months. A few have had very specific vomit-triggers (usually a smell) that could occur at any time. Some, like my mother, just didn't feel like eating much and actually lost weight. Several were never much affected. With Dianthus I was frequently queasy, but rarely threw up. With R.R., for December and January, I was actively queasy most mornings and evenings and would have at least one wave of overwhelming "ick" at some point during the day. I threw up two or three times a week. I still can't handle uncooked poultry and many times the idea of cooking (but not eating) is repulsive.

Complications aren't uncommon. Besides the "normal" growing belly, super-sensitive boobs, and fatigue many women have something else going on. This pregnancy I have a subchorionic hematoma (also called subchorionic hemorrhage) which effectively means that I gushed blood for a few terrifying days in early January and then dripped old blood and some nasty clots for four weeks, but Rutherford is unaffected. Hopefully the blood is gone and nothing more will come of it, but there's nothing known to prevent reoccurring bleeding or to prevent it from leading to preterm labor. Subchorionic hematomas occur in 1-2% of pregnancies-- not a high rate, but given that over 4 million babies were born in the US last year, that's somewhere around 50,000 women with this condition last year. Hematomas certainly aren't the only or the worst complication: blood disorders, odd placement of baby, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia are all more common, and all can lead to perfectly healthy babies. Just be aware that there's a real chance that the pregnant woman you're working with is taking daily shots, is on a super restricted diet, is bleeding, is aching or is worrying beyond the norm.

Heartbreak is a real possibility. Miscarriage and infertility are very different griefs, but both lead to a heartbreaking sense of loss. Since my miscarriage in 2007, I've become a big advocate for talking about miscarriage. Somewhere around one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, yet most parents grieve silently. When I told my colleagues about my miscarriage in 2007, I learned of ten miscarriages among the four women I worked with. While all four women have healthy grown children now, it still saddens me to know they endured that sort of pain (in one case, the pain included losing five babies without any mention of it at work and any support from her husband). While I was bleeding in January, thinking I was having a second miscarriage, I commented to a friend that I had thought that knowing the benefits: the wonder and joy a Dianthus can bring, would make the risk of heartbreak worth taking. At that moment I wasn't so sure.

So basically, I'm suggesting more conversation and more compassion. Nobody needs to know about every churn of somebody else's guts or track the trail of every tear, but I hope that the churning and crying aren't viewed as avoidable weaknesses and don't have to happen in lonely seclusion.

*No Mom, I don't have a blood clot. Yes, I actually went to the doctor and I had an ultrasound to confirm the absence. I didn't tell you about it because you'd just worry. Yes, I do take after some mother and grandmother I'm descended from.

**I'm not making this up, but I am too lazy to go find the source at the moment.

***At different times she's been a big advocate for open discussions about menopause, grief, colonoscopys, mammograms, and the like. Admittedly, she's never been big into discussing these things when they apply to her with me, because we don't do that in our family (see first footnote).

Join the February STIR

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat is the February STIR selection. Salsis and I have both finished it and are earnestly discussing it off-blog, however there is still plenty of time to read it this month and join in (or at least better) appreciate our discussion.
Salsis, more usually a reader of escapist sci-fi and true adventure novels, does ecological work in Haiti when she can. She selected this book because it is a contemporary novel by a woman from Haiti and represents whole categories of books (Haitian novels, Oprah selections, women's issues novels) she hasn't explored.
The book is short, compelling, and full of star references*. It is a very fast read, particularly in the early section before things become uncomfortable. Of course (it is an Oprah selection, after all) things do become uncomfortable, sometimes squirmingly so, and there is plenty of dysfunction to go around.
I read Breath, Eyes, Memory one windy day here; Salsis read most of it on her snow day last week. Take a short while to read something different and join our discussion.
Because Salsis has been such a good sport, I'm going to suggest a classic sci-fi work, The Day of the Triffids, as a bonus February book, and English-village-life Lark Rise to Candleford is on for March.

*To the stars in the sky, not celebrities, and I just noticed the stars because that's what I do this year.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Star Year of the Rabbit

Happy New Year of the Rabbit!
Besides being a time to eat lucky foods (long noodles and sweet beans among them), the lunar new year signifies the time for me to quit procrastinating and name my new resolution.
Following the advice of my trusted advisors, the new resolution is,


[Star-like fireworks should follow in your brain.]
Many of you, trained as you are to be critical thinkers, will follow the star-like fireworks with the obvious question, "What does one resolve to do in the Year of Stars?"
That, my friendly readers, is a very good question.
I don't know, but I'm confident we'll figure it out. Part of my confidence comes from the fact that 2004 was the year of pink. Admittedly, it started out as a far more specific resolution to "Lose my fear of pink wine by drinking many styles of it" but I suddenly found myself wearing gaudy pink rings and sending scented notes on pink stationery. "Stars" isn't much more vague than "explore the world of Rodentia through both biological and pop cultural inquiry" or "explore luck" and most long term readers would agree that rodent and luck turned out better than noodles, despite noodles having very specific aims.

So stars . . .
I will learn to read a star chart.
I will bake my favorite star shaped cookies.
I will learn some very basic real astronomy (book suggestions?).
I will read some star books and watch some star movies and listen to star music (again, I'm open to suggestions, take stars as figuratively as desired).
I will figure out ways that I like star anise and star fruit (not two of my favorite foods).
I will think about starting another quilt (but probably not do it).
I'll try to see shooting stars among the prairie ephemerals.
I will wish upon some stars.
Help me here. What would you do in the year of stars? What do you think I'd enjoy trying?
The sparkling star image was found here.