D*@# you, John Green: An Open Letter About THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

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Warning: The open letter is full of spoilers. If you haven’t read the book, be warned.

Dear John Green,

Darn you. Darn you for writing a book that made me cry out loud.

Darn you for writing a book that kept my behind stuck in the chair on a day off when I should have been cleaning, so when the neighbor came over to give me his garden fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, he had to look away from the sight of my entryway.

Darn you for writing the things about the Battle and the Fight against cancer which is a part of our own bodies. I have been thinking those things since my dad died “when the cancer, which was made of him, finally stopped his heart, which was also made of him.” I could not find the words that you did through Hazel.

Darn you for writing a book so true that now I must miss Hazel and Augustus, too.

Darn you for your brilliance, courage and humanity that you are able to use so well.

Darn you for getting me to care so much about a story that my heart aches.

Darn you. Having this as a library book won’t be enough. I’ll need to buy it.

And darn you for becoming so deservedly popular that you don’t answer your mail. Not even from your mother. If I sent this to you directly, it would only end up in a slush pile like Van Houten’s. Darn you for that, too.

In reality, you can substitute ‘thank’ for all the ‘darns’ in this letter. But, honestly, as I stood stunned in my kitchen after Augustus died, I first thought, “D*#% you.” You left a scar with this book, Mr. Green. It’s not a scar I regret having. I like my choice to read your book. But that scar is deep, and it is still tender.

Most Sincerely,

Karrie

A Review: The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

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The Carpet People

Terry Pratchett is a name I’ve heard over the years but not someone I had read before. When I saw that one of my  favorite writers Neil Gaiman had worked with Pratchett, I decided to check him out. The Carpet People caught my eye and so I brought it home from the library — first as the audio read by Tony Robinson and then checking out the book when I could not listen fast enough. The illustrations by the author were a marvelous bonus to the print version. 

I loved his language. As we listened and drove to Lake Tipsoo, Robinson read: “The carpet was big. But the carpet was…everything. It didn’t count. It was too big to have a size. But the High Gate Land was small enough to be really huge.” And the High Gate Land turns out to be a penny.

I adored the idea of teensy tiny people living in the carpet at the mercy of Fray which, as far as I can tell, is what happens when we beyond giants step on a section of carpet.

In an author’s note, Pratchett says that the “book has two authors, they were both the same person.” He originally wrote it when he was seventeen and then revised it considerably at 43. I’m intrigued by how well he did at 17 and then how far he’s come since then.

Bits flew off in different directions and, at times, I noticed the fact that the first author was only 17. It made me want to see how his writing develops and check into this Discworld business. I’m betting I’ll be impressed and may need to find another reader to do the English accents that my inner reading voice so often falters on when I look at the print version.

 

The Fountain of Youth is in Seattle

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I recently heard Neil Gaiman tell an interviewer that getting old involved doing fewer and fewer things for the first time.

I came up with a cure for that kind of aging that involves two parts:

1. Do something you’ve done before in a new way.

2. Bring a kid who is still doing everything for the first time.

A couple days ago my four year old Quinton and I stepped out of our car culture and took the train to Seattle. (I hear Q in my head correcting me: “Not car, Mom. The VAN!)

At first, I was afraid we might not make it. The parking lot was packed, and we hadn’t left early enough for me to figure out what to do. We ran from the spot I found 2 blocks away and raced to the ticket booth where — thank the heavens above — we found a man in a reflective transit jacket maneuvering a wheelchair with a guide dog at his side. He had seen my distress at the fancy ticket machine and offered to help us, got us tickets, and told me Q was free (FREE!).

(Yes, I had tried to figure this out before. No, I had apparently not worked the websites enough to understand. I’d like to think of this as being youthful rather than uninformed, if you don’t mind.)

With his wonderful help, we even had a few moments to spare before the train came. Quinton spent the time bouncing and saying: “I’m so excited! I’m so excited!”

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As the Sounder rolled in, we climbed the stairs to sit up on the second level. At 8:00am, most of the commuters had already made it to work, so we had the place almost to ourselves.

We saw my ancient middle school Dieringer that is now a construction company along with the power station the no longer moves the waters of Lake Tapps where I grew up. I thought for a moment how often I saw the trains go by when I was in school (long before the Sounder came to be). Looking at the world from the train’s side twisted my perspective just enough to make the whole scene familiar but strange – like a new old experience.

The country rolled by and I loved how easy it was to get to Seattle without traffic jam stress. Another family climbed on board at Sumner with excited kids and content parents and grandparents. Quinton eavesdropped and was impressed that they were talking about ‘not burning gas.’

“Burning gas!?!” he said to me, loud enough to let the family know he heard.

From King Station, we took the link to Westlake and then the monorail to the Armory (which I still want to call the Center House).

We played in the Children’s Museum, then the fountain and then the museum again until one o’clock when the museum lost it’s appeal to me (not to Quinton – he could have stayed there longer if I could have taken one more round on the fake mountain looking at the plastic bugs under fake rocks).

 

We made our way back to Puyallup, stopping at the Magic Mouse Toys in Pioneer Square (Buying ANOTHER truck. Sigh.) and Uwajimaya in the International District.

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The 3:12 train back home was just about perfect. We got back exhausted and pleased with ourselves. Quinton is already planning our return trip.

It wasn’t international travel. But it was an adventure. It felt like doing something for the first time (complete with the edge of fear that we might get lost and stranded) – a way to be young again for me and to finally get on one of those trains for Q. Mission accomplished.

Even if you don’t have a kid around to egg you on, I strongly recommend looking for new ways to do old things. The adventure will add a zip to your days.

Mother Tongue Tuesday (on a Wednesday again): Korean

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Korean Primer

I’ve worked with many Korean students over the years, but woven throughout my life I’ve also been blessed with many Korean American friends.

These lovely friends have touched my life in ways large and small. One lady came to my house to teach me her language. A professor friend once helped me write an essay when I was in high school. Other friends invited me to their sheep ranch in the Green River Valley and took me to festivals where I had sweet bean deserts.

When I was young my mother’s best friend was another nurse whose two young boys became marvelous violin players. We once went to their immaculate home where we had won ton soup the mother made without any packages, and then we listened to her boys play for us. We were all delighted and crushed when those boys were accepted at Julliard, causing the family to move away to the East Coast.

These friends and students I have known have had an inner strength that allows them to move forward. Once a Korean friend from church was attacked in her tutoring business. Even though she probably weighs half as much as I do, she put up a tremendous fight. I pitied the fool with a knife who thought he could rob her without consequence.

When I think of the language these amazing friends all speak, I am always most impressed by the alphabet my friend started to teach me.

Once a king in Korea decided to reform the ridiculously complex Chinese-based character system Korea used at the time. King Sejong worked in the 1440’s to devise an alphabet called Hangul with 28 symbols, spelling the different sounds of Korean. Some call it a syllabary instead of an alphabet because the symbols represent syllable sounds.

This logical and simple writing system has dramatically increased literacy for Korea. If you’d like to read more about one of the youngest and (in my opinion) best writing systems in the world, check out this excellent article in The Economist. English spelling could use a little reform like this, too.

Other Korean Tidbits from the UCLA Language Project

  • Korean grammar is complex enough to hurt my head. While it does not use articles or plural nouns, it has a variety of ways to change its verbs including markers for the social status of the speakers. It uses 7 different cases for nouns, including the usual nominative, accusative, dative, genitive and others I had never heard of before.
  • It uses Subject-Object-Verb word order.
  • It is technically a language isolate but many scholars argue that Korean should be included with other Altaic or Uralic languages like Japanese, Turkic and even Finnish.

Famous Korean Americans 

Michelle Wie, golfer

Toby Dawson, freestyle skier

When I went to Germany many years ago, I felt a bit less homesick sitting in the McDonald’s, sipping coffee. Almost 15 years later, I traveled across the world in the other direction to China. It amazed me how at home I felt in the Korean restaurant down the street from my apartment.

After meeting the remarkable people who speak Korean, spicy noodles and won ton soup had begun to feel like home.

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A Racoon Ignoring Us from Above

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“It’s way too big to be a squirrel,” I said as I looked in the tree.

My teenaged son and I were camping near Shelton, WA and sitting by the fire he had been thrilled to build when I had noticed a creature settling into the branches above us.

We kept staring and squinting at it until Kieran decided to go down the trail by the row boats to check it out with more of the evening’s light.

“It’s furry, Mom. No way it’s a bird,” he said.

By this time whatever it was had settled in for the night and wasn’t moving. I thought the fur looked like a raccoon but we couldn’t be sure. The larger-than-a-squirrel-but-not-ugly-enough-to-be-an-opossum thing was doing an excellent job of ignoring us.

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A few years back we had camped with my sister and her kids in the same place with her little dog in a tent. We woke after midnight to find ourselves surrounded by raccoons circling the tent, hoping for a chance to munch the yapping little chi weenie who was barking with his whole body the way tiny dogs do.

So I wasn’t surprised this recent trip to see a masked face staring out from the branches when we checked the tree an hour later. He still did not seem to care if we saw him or not and tucked his face back in before I could manage a picture. I never knew raccoons slept in trees but this spot looked perfect for him. If I hadn’t seen him settle in, we never would have noticed his sleeping arrangement.

My son and I have seen the most amazing creatures when we stop our busy lives for a few moments. This particular member of the wildlife gave me the feeling that those we don’t notice might be too busy to notice us either. But, busy or not, I won’t soon forget that mask or his perch above us.

 

Father Sue and Why I Don’t Neuter God

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I once believed, like many of my big hearted friends, that I could cut all the male/female references out of God and It would resonate for me. I even thought the neutral would work better for me because He would be free of gender. A great Force. An It that was bigger than gender. Bigger than the labels we give to what our limited minds understand.

The Force defies images, but if I try, I come up with objects like mountains, or the sun, the moon or even flowers.

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Then one day I read two books by Sue Monk Kidd that shattered those neutral thoughts.

In The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Kidd talked of needing deep in our souls to connect with the Divine. She talked of how very much we needed to feel a connection as a reflection of ourselves. She even talked of how she felt so steeped in male terms for God that she once slipped and thought of herself as Father Sue while visiting a monastic retreat.

Since reading that book, I’ve awakened to how very repressed the Divine feminine is in our consciousness. I wonder, as Kidd did in another book The Secret Life of Bees, how the world and its balance of power would shift and how it might change if we thought of the Great One as a woman of color. Could we subjugate people if we clearly understood that they reflected the face of the Divine? Could we begin to think of these images as representing the Divine?

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I still respect and admire others’ need to take gender out all together. The Divine is not actually a woman. The Divine is not a man. The Divine is greater and more marvelous than the gender that we assign or that is assigned to us. I once believed God lived on the mountain and, living in the shadow of a volcano, it’s easy to feel the power of inanimate things.

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But I am a woman, not a mountain. And I’ve discovered that to reach my best and most wonderful potential, I need to relate to a Goddess, not a God or a great unknowable Force, as fair-minded as that would seem. I don’t even object to terms like Father and Lord when we gather to worship. I feel the deep need of others to name God and relate in that way.

I only wish those male terms were balanced with the words Mother and Lady so both genders in the congregation could relate and see ourselves as reflections of the Divine. Maybe we could even sprinkle in a few neutral terms now and then to remind ourselves of impermanent nature of what we are now.

The idea of Goddess is shocking to me still — much scarier than a Force whose existence people more willingly agree to acknowledge. I’m scared to post this. My friend Shirley challenged me, and I have had a good long pause in posting while I considered what to do.

I am hoping maybe this means I’m ‘starting to get it right’ — that I might be reaching that moment Neil Gaiman described:

“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”

Whether I am getting it right or not, the She Who Is keeps insisting I write this in ways that won’t let me go. So I will punch the keys, hunt for public domain pictures, and hit publish. The world will keep spinning, and then I can move on to the next words tucked inside me.

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Classics for Four Year Old Granddaughters

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My friend Jill asked me this weekend what reading classics I would recommend for her and her soon-to-be four granddaughter. It was a delightfully difficult question to answer. Here are all of my ideas.

Kid Classics Everyone Seems to Know

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (The language in this is amazing. I read that one of the reasons it works so well and is so soothing involves the use of the vowels created in the back of your throat. Ms. Brown is  a wonder.)

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (It is a joy to learn this book as the parent reader. After a time, you can start zipping through the language and the repetition, feeling a little like your tongue is skipping. I especially like the question at the end about asking the mother. “What would you do if your mother asked you?” Quinton always has to ponder this a bit.)

Anything by Eric Carle. (Kieran and I especially liked The Grouchy Ladybug. Quinton loves The Hungry Caterpillar.)

Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Schachner (Although the boys never got hooked on these, I adore this cat and think Jill’s granddaughter might, too.)

My Special Recommendation for Girls

The Paper Bag Princess by Munch with art by Marchenko. (This book is a delightful twist on the rescue a female from the dragon scenario — the heroine does her own brilliant rescuing. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed this more than the boys, but they appreciate my sound effects for the dragon’s actions.)

My Family’s Lesser Known Classics

If You Were My Bunny by Kate McMullan (This one is good if you like to sing. The different animals have new lyrics for old lullabies.)

The Little Critter series by Mercer Meyer (Little Critter is a wonder with his trips to the grandparents, experiences with a messy room and, my husband’s favorite: Just Go to Bed.)

One Day, Two Dragons by Lynne Bertrand (An elegant tale of two dragons off to get shots to protect them against things like scale rot and dragon breath.)

Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin (Again, the language rolls off your tongue as you read it. The cows and ducks triumph with words also spices up the plot.)

And, finally, our all time favorite if you only let us have one children’s book forever because you were a cruel overlord or something: 

Four Pups and a Worm by Eric Seltzer (I don’t know many people who have read this one but I adore it. Seltzer has a rhythm that creates an easy flow to the words and an adorable concept. The repeating words helped Kieran learn to read and I see the beginnings of this with Quinton, too.)

“If a pet frog sounds like fun, would 3 cats and a slug lend you one? Never. No. Never. They’re just not that clever. Call four pups and a worm! They lend frogs!”

I’m hoping Jill will check these out from one of my favorite places on the surface of this planet: the library. Then she can chose her favorite or favorites to give her girl. Whatever she does, I’m thrilled she asked me. Tripping through the books in my mind was a blast that beat the trousers off of all that blowing up of explosives I heard last night.