Wednesday, February 17, 2010

There is Hope, World

When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the Olympics were all about beating the Soviet Union. China was a dark force whom "we" didn't like very much, but the Soviet Union? Yeesh. Darth Vader, Sauron and Lex Luther all rolled up into one.

Have times changed.

My family and I were watching the games the other night when Canada won its first ever gold on home ground. It was an emotionally overwhelming moment to share with Alexandre Bilodeau when he caputured gold in the men's moguls. We all cheered. Loudly.

None of us is Canadian.

It got even better yesterday when Shen and Zhao won the pairs figure skating gold, a medal that's eluded them for two decades and which they came out of retirement to try one last time to capture. I was in tears.

I am not Chinese.

My ten year old daughter said, "That is so good. They deserve it."

She is not Chinese.

Why my emphasis on nationality? Because after growing up fearing the "evil empire" that was the Soviet Union, I realized last night that the world my children are growing up in is a vastly new one. One in which we cheer for the winners, no matter where they are from. When an announcer talks about a Japanese skater who became Russian to follow her dream of figure skating, and in a joking aside says, "Does anyone defect to the Soviet Union?"

Times have changed. Changed for the better. 

Sure, there are still problems. Iran and Israel would not march into the games one after the other.  Taiwan is not allowed to call itself Taiwan. But, you know, I think the Greeks were onto something. These games, they may not necessarily be the big force that changes our opinions about each other, but they keep lines of communication open. They give us the opportunity to root for our fellow man, regardless of nationality, and to mourn with him. The moment of silence for the Georgian luge slider, Nodar Kumaritashvili, during the opening ceremonies is one I will long remember. 

For these brief two weeks, we get a chance to be better than we are. American broadcasters have even gotten with the program. Two games ago, all they ever seemed to show were the Americans performing. Now they are showing a great cross section of athletes, giving those of us at home the opportunity to cheer for the best athlete, no matter where she is from. It's awesome. And I don't meant the trite definition of that word. I mean the awe-inspiring, we can do anything if we put our minds to it, definition.

There's hope world. Don't give up on us yet.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You Might be a writer if...pain is inevitable

It's been a while since I've gotten to reflect on the ins and outs of writerdom, mostly because I've been hanging on by the skin of my teeth in my MFA program. There are just not enough hours in the day.

A few emails ago, however, one of my advisors put me onto a short tome written by a fellow traveler in the writing lane,  Haruki Murakami's  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

I am a dedicated runner, which this advisor knows as we've crossed paths in the wee hours of the morn running during residencies. Although the reading tower is approaching critical heights in my office, I got the book (downloaded it to my Kindle, actually, thus not adding to the teetering tower).

Murakami hooked me right away with these words--"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."

It is?

It is.

In this life, if you live it even a little, pain is inevitable. Doesn't matter if you're running, swimming, have kids, are married, or, god forbid, decide to try art for a living. Pain is inevitable.

That's a liberating thought. I'm not alone. Everybody suffers! Don't get me wrong, I'm so not taking joy in somebody else's pain. Far from it. I'm just relieved that, well, the pain thing, it's...dare I say it, normal.

Yippee! I'm normal! (Have I been waiting an eternity to say that).

Suffering however...

Well, I can either fall into it, or accept the pain and move through it.

Which gets back to the running thing. In running, at least, the longer I work through the pain, the greater the reward when I finish. All I need to do is juxtapose my running attitude to my writing. There will be pain. There is pain. What I do with it, that's the true test.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Book Review Club - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
by Sherman Alexie

It's a bit daunting to review a book that's won the National Book Award. I mean, does it get any better than that? Okay, there is the Pulitzer, or maybe the Nobel Prize, but hey, this is the National Book Award. Wow.

Does Alexie live up to the hipe?

In a word, yes.

This is a character driven piece about a topic - reservation life and the hopelessness it breeds - that, in this generation, is little spoken about. Alexie brings it to life in a deeply emotional way. Death, alcoholism, hopelessness. Love, family, tribal bonds. Heavy topics handled with an honesty that makes the emotional cartharsis at the end of the piece feel very real.

This isn't about fixing the mess the U.S. created when it set up reservations. It isn't about doing away with reservations, or rethinking them. It's about one boy, Junior's, journey to create a new life for himself, a life with hope. It's about his love for his family. His love for his friends. And how he straddles two worlds to become one person. At the same time, his experiences aren't so heart-wrenching you'll be looking into Prosac by the time you're done. It's good, well thought-out, clean writing. 

If you feel like honesty, like a solid read, like letting literature change you, read True Diary. Junior lives up to his potential and beyond.

And for more fun and exciting tales, hop over to Barrie Summy's website for the complete list of The Book Review Club's reviews this month!