Monthly Archives: December 2011

Molly’s 2012 Resolutions

MOLLY

Someone recently asked me if Molly had resolutions for 2012, and I was like: well, of course! Here I transcribe some things she told me.

-MOR RATS

Rats

Molly has these mice from Ikea. They are the only toys she has ever loved. In 2012, she wants a room to be filled with them, so that she might walk in there and bask in their presence. Wait…that's not a resolution, that's a…

-CONSOLIDATE POWER; TURN MASTERS AGAINST EACH OTHER

Wait, what?

-EAT MOR TRASH WITOUT THROWIN UP

That's more like it. I mean, if she's going to keep eating all of my trash the least she could do is to not force me to clean it up after she regurgitates it on the carpet.

-STOP SNORS

Ever since we revoked Molly's invitation to sleep in our room, she's been really paranoid about her snoring. And with good reason. She sounds like a freight train rolling into a station. In hell.

-STOP BEIN CREEP

It is really creepy when my boyfriend and I are making out and Molly comes over to stare at us while violently wagging the lower half of her body and generally drawing attention to herself.

-CACH DEERS

She's been so close! (Not really.)

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1491 by Charles C. Mann

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This was actually quite a different experience from reading 1493. For one thing, it had a lot more material to cover, and as such, compared to the other book, I was left with so many more questions (I guess it's not really a bad thing per se when a book makes you want to learn more about whatever topic it covers, though). It was also more…political, I guess, is the word I would use. I feel like before Mann wrote this he must often have thought "If I had a nickel for every time someone regurgitated some completely wrong-headed notion about Indians, I could definitely break a coinstar machine." I also have a complicated relationship with coinstar machines, so Imaginary Charles Mann has my sympathy. And he's right: everything you've learned in school about Native Americans is probably pretty wrong.

There's a little passage early on in the book, when Mann is describing the Siriono people of Bolivia, that I'm going to quote here because it so perfectly encapsulates what I think is the main argument of 1491: 

"Before Columbus, Holmberg [who first sudied the Siriono in the early 20th century] believed, both the people and the land had no real history. Stated so baldly, this notion–that the indigenous peoples of the Americas had floated changelessly through the millennia until 1492–may seem ludicrous. But flaws in perspective often appear obvious only after they are pointed out. In this case they took decades to rectify."

Native civilizations of the Americas were largely exterminated by European diseases, often before making contact with European people (diseases moved across the continent faster than the Europeans themselves), and so the accounts that we have of these societies are often those written by Europeans, and are descriptions of these peoples after they'd been devastated by various epidemics. What seemed to Europeans to be a virgin, untouched wilderness (both in North and South America) was often the result of millenia of Indian stewardship that had only recently been disrupted by societal breakdown.

It's only in the last century that we've begun to get a better picture of what the Americas were like before the Europeans arrived here. Complex societies to rival those of the Old World flourished and passed into obscurity many times over before Columbus ever set foot on Hispaniola. For centuries, much of this history has been obscured, much of it lost. Who knows what those cultures and their people would have contributed to humanity if they'd ever been able to interact in the same way that European, Middle-Eastern, and Asian cultures did over so many centuries? That loss is, as Mann himself says, a tragedy on a scale that is probably unequaled in history.

I mean, at least we still have the Mayan calendar, though! Happy investiture of Bolon Yakte' K'uh next year, guys! I hope a meteorite doesn't kill us!

(Yes, that prophecy thing is also nonsense.)

Evenings Alone/ Review: In Other Rooms, Other Wonder by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Because I live with my boyfriend, it's only about once or twice a week that I have dinner by myself. The result of this sudden onset of absolute freedom is that I get really giddy and always make the wrong choice. My thought process goes like this:

"C isn't home! I could eat ANYTHING. ANYTHING in the WORLD. I could drive to Huntersville and eat there."

*Spend twenty minutes researching restaurants at a totally unrealistic distance from house*

"ANYTHING AT ALL."

*Spend another twenty minutes looking up a really complicated recipe for souffle and writing down ingredients. As soon as that is done, lose desire to cook.*

"I mean REALLY. I could eat a raccoon and no one would even know. I could throw the bones in the creek that runs past the back of the house."

*Wonder why that would even occur to anyone. Possibly, hunger is making me delirious? Look at watch, realize it's 9:30 and too late to eat out. Get angry.*

"I mean, everyone is so unreasonable."

*Eat junk food. Feel ill. Am full of regret. The end.*

 

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Anyway, let's talk about books. I finally, finally finished the totally wonderful Mueenuddin short stories. This book was shortlisted for the Pulitzer last year, and even though I usually end up sort of hating (because I'm a contrary, obstinate person) the books they pick, this was great. It's a series of short stories about all kinds of different characters associated with a Pakistani feudal family: the Harounis. Mueenuddin is equally effective and sensitive whether he's describing KK Harouni (the family patriarch), or an old gardener on one of the Harouni estates. To me, this ability to see people so clearly across class lines, living such radically different lives, was what was most impressive about the book; the naturalness with which he inhabited such a wide variety of characters (especially considering that this is Mueenuddin's first book). I was full of envy, because this is actually exactly the sort of book I'd like to write. 

The stories are tied together thematically as well: there's a strong current of manipulation. Everyone seems to have two faces: one for ingratiating themselves to the people around them, and another truer one. Desire and ambition are something to be kept secret, to be quietly held in some hidden corner of the self, until an opportunity for realization has been painstakingly extracted. This is especially true for the women (there's many more women characters, as I remember, than men). The other theme here is the static nature of Pakistani life. Maybe static isn't the right word…immobile, maybe. To strive for change or improvement is totally futile. None of the characters that do are able to escape their old selves, their places in the world (to which they were born) for very long. So there's all this manipulation, all this pent-up want, continually wrecking itself against the difficulty of life in Pakistan.

Still, along with this aching longing that is at the heart of the book, there is always some measure of hope, and love. Even if they can't last, those things deserve someone like Mueenuddin to record their passing. 

Some Disapointments.

Sometimes I read books and I don't like them, but I don't think that's reflected very well in the blog. I guess I don't think it's fair to review a book I didn't finish, and why would I finish something I don't love? I mean, life is short or something else equally cliche. Anyway, just in time for X-mas, here are some books that disappointed me this year:

The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman. I want to love this book; so many people love this book! But no. I'll try again next year.

Lord Jim. Again, I am disappointed mainly in myself. I guess coming of age in the era of Everyone With Money or Power is an Ammoral Sack of Flesh (and we all know about it thanks to the internet), I have a hard time really grasping the concept of dishonor. I mean, just donate some money to charity and issue a public apology, gaaaawd.

-I didn't love Because They Wanted To. Everyone loves Mary Gaitskill! Objectively, she's phenomenal, but to me personally something about her writing is just very… it's as if her characters are being dissected under a harsh lab light. On the one hand, she sees them (and we see them) so clearly…on the other hand, there's something about it that's a little bit like a violation. I mean, she's amazing. I just prefer, I guess, a softer gaze; incisiveness that does not take so much pleasure in the ability to expose.

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar. My dad loves this book. For me this is another try again next year book. I guess I was expecting something more like I, Claudius, or Gore Vidal's Julian (so much drama!). This was a little bit drier (at least, the part that I read). 

The Hunger Games. I don't think this actually really belongs here, because I thought it was really good. But, at the same time, it's not essential for me. I don't know that I'm going to read the next two in the series. If I had to pick only one coming-of-age in dystopia book for you to read, it would still be The Golden Compass or The Giver. Maybe this would be totally different if I had read this as a teenager, but I didn't think it had anything all that interesting to say. Reality tv sucks, you know, and we're all exploitative jerks, etc. I feel like I've heard it/seen it before. If you really want to make that point, you make Man Bites Dog, which still holds the crown as the most traumatizing movie I have ever seen (that is not specifically a horror movie).

I wish I had read something I really hated so I could tell you about it. I would write something so nasty! But, if you'll allow me to humblebrag for a second, I am basically so good at screening books these days that I rarely get something that is a real dud. It's terrible!

The Imagined Conversations of Ill-Conceived Characters: Anthropologie, Part Quatre

Next summer, I am going to be in my friend April's wedding. The other day, she was like “you will wear a sash” and I died and went to heaven, because if there is one thing I do not get to do enough of in this life, it's wearing sashes (sashaying? I mean, are those two things related?). But it made me wonder: “Hey, I wonder what's going on over at Anthropologie?” 

SIDEBAR: Not so long ago, I was foolishly charmed into buying a raincoat from the Anthro. Oh, day that I most rue! I am full of regret, you guys! Because my bright red raincoat BLEEDS when it gets wet. Right onto my clothes. That's right, I have a raincoat that can never, under no circumstances, get wet. It only makes perfect sense. I think about returning it—about marching into the Anthro with a full glass of water and the coat and threatening to stain a spotless white bedspread that looks like a doily—but it's just…so cute.

Lately, I have been extra-judgmental of everyone around me, because I am super-frustrated with my thesis (sorry, guys), and insecurity makes me mean, but I am a kindergartener in the school of judgement compared to Lucinda and Peony, who have recently agreed to go into business together. I know this because they sent me their brochure. I transcribe it in full:

"Hello, friend!

We hope you're having a nice time in your “house” this holiday season(many people I have heard of own apartments, and I don't want you to think we don't mean you, too). Are you ready, though, to make your “house” into a home?

Lucinda and Peony now offer decoration services to the public (!), as long as there's no mold where you live. My friend Jacquelinda tells me mold is very bad, so we don't deal with that kind of thing. I have a very sensitive nose.

Anyway, here is some wallpaper that I did:

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It's good, isn't it? Peony told me to apply it up-down style, but I told her that was so cliché. I think it looks much better, much more artisanal, this way.

We do wall painting:

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Peony told me not to do one of my “designs”, so I went ahead and didn't do a thing. If that snotty cow wants someone to paint a wall in some boring shade of greige, she can do it herself. Anyway, I love chipping paint. You know, it's very chic. Jacquelinda came by with something called a lead test strip and swabbed everything, and then said I needed to do lead mitigation. I put on a sweater, obviously.

In this picture you can see a water heater I fixed up:

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It's working perfectly now. I don't know, it's just something I've always been able to do. My uncle, Milverton Potts, told me once I was a savant. He's the very worst hypochondriac and goes around diagnosing everyone. You shouldn't listen to him, I'm sure your thyroid's fine and you just need to eat less cheese.

We do furniture:

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Here I am doing something I call “existence” where I just sort of meditate on a space for some time before I go out and find you something just perfect (below…the chair was already in place, but the sculpture was something I found in Tijuana). It's really important to just sort of “be”, you know. Just “be” in a space before you go out and buy something. Many times you can get great deals on furniture if you mention your mother!

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We do details:

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These are some candlesticks I made from other candlesticks.

Finally, these are the contents of my purse:

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Peony keeps asking if I have the receipts in there. She's doing the numbers and boring things for our little business. Really, I don't know what she does all day."

Molly Recommends: Archeology

MOLLY

Today, I walked away from a plate of delicious spicy hummus for 5 minutes and when I came back, that plate was as clean as if I'd washed it and NO ONE was in the room. Was it magic? Am I living among magicians and mages?

No.

There was a more sinister explanation: it turns out that The Squirrel Invasion (TM) has begun. They're making their home in the walls, from where they sneak out on all sorts of secret sabotage missions against the hummus-eating faction of this household. Molly saw them! She told me so.

She also told me she's been reading the Amelia Peabody mysteries, and that they are delightful, in much the same way as I Capture the Castle was delightful. Just a lovely bit of fluff if you need such a thing in the middle of winter. They're parodies of the type of adventure novel that was popular in the late 19th century, and they're set mostly in Victorian England and Egypt. You know Molly loves a good parasol. The main characters are archeologists digging up the Valley of the Kings and getting into it with mummies and criminals (as you do, when you're a Victorian archeologist or a character on Scooby Doo). Personally, I have been reading non-fiction (1491!). Nothing like the decimation of the native peoples of the Americas to brighten your winter. There have been so many fascinating discoveries both in archeology and anthropology that have revolutionized our understanding of the civi…wait, wait, don't go.

Anyway, I'm off to tie Molly up and cover her in nuts and honey. The Squirrels (TM) will never be able to resist. I'm going to be hiding in the laundry closet with a sharp knife in one hand and a heavy bit of wood in the other. Don't be nervous Molly! I've done this before, in my dreams.