Thursday, March 25, 2010

Back Home Virginia

You know that one place (or maybe two) you've lived in that, from the moment you got there, just felt like home?

I've lived all over the Midwest, East Coast and Western Europe, and as luck would have it, that place, for me, is Charlottesville, Virginia. Every time I get back, I feel like I'm home. It's funny, too, because I spent the five most difficult years of my life there. Difficult because I was writing a dissertation, and, for me, just about every other challenge I've faced in life has been a thousand time easier than that gut-wrenching, sleep-depriving, paranoia-inducing academic obstacle course. Still, Virginia turned out to be the perfect place to do it.

My husband and I made really great friends there. Friends we still keep in touch with although we've been gone now for (gulp) ten years. And the air has just right smell to it. And the food, just the right taste.

So when I was invited to speak at the Virginia Festival of the book in C-ville this year, I was ecstatic. The kids were ecstatic. It was like a second Christmas in Spring.

Except for the trip out. It was...what is the right adjective here...insane? We missed our connecting flight in O'Hare due to weather (I'm not sure what kind of weather because it was in the 50s and raining, but that's what the airline was claiming was the cause of delays and the reason they didn't have to try very hard to get us out until, say, next Spring). Pandemonium ensued. It was two weekends ago, the first weekend of Spring Break in the Midwest, and everybody was trying to get somewhere. Let's just say that it was a minor miracle we were able to get anywhere near Virginia before I'd aged another year. I think the gods of aviation must have intervened because before my birthday dawned on Sunday, we were at my brother's in Chesapeake.

My kids were then subjected to the usual, learn American history firsthand routine. I took them the Yorktown, Jamestown, and colonial Williamsburg. It rained, but it didn't matter. We were too excited to be back in Virginia. Then it was off to Charlottesville (C-ville to townies and students) for a week of school visits. My kids spent the time with their godparents and old friends, one of whom took them hiking two days in a row.

When I asked my kids if they were having an okay time, what with my being away all day at schools, my ten year old looked at me and said, "Are you kidding? I would have come here without you!"

Needless to say, the week went by way too quickly, and it was suddenly Saturday morning and I was off to the Festival. Red letter day. Got to see old writing friends, talk on a panel with them about setting in kidlit, schmooze, meet lots of authors I'd never met before, and round the evening off with a dinner at a cozy tapas joint in town (where we all learned to never order the tuna tartar again, unless you're Thimbelina).

Sunday, I took the girls to our favorite hiking spot, Pen Park. I'd spent many an afternoon there during grad school with my dogs. For whatever reason, our family really really loves that place. We've seen all manner of wildlife there - deer, snakes, skunks. My kids think it's a wild safari. 

The week ended way too soon, and Monday we were on a flight back to Tulsa. Unlike the trip out, it was uneventful, easy even. Leaving wasn't. I'll miss you Virginia. A lot.

Can't wait until I'm back again.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

It wasn't exactly what Dylan Thomas had in mind but I'm still raging. Daylight Saving begins this weekend. I love that extra hour of sleep in November, but I'd gladly exchange it for no time change at all. Here in the heart of the Midwest,  we sit pretty badly for such an early change. It has just started getting light about 6:30 a.m. now. Come time change, it will be another month before we see such glorious rays so early. The very thought makes me grumpy. Why, why why do we have to fumble with time?

It was Ben Franklin's idea. I'm guessing he didn't like sleep anywhere nearly as much as I do. Although I'm pretty sure most of colonial America shared my love of a warm bed because thrifty Ben's idea went no where. It wasn't until 1905 that anything happened with Daylight Saving, and it was a Brit who (re)started the movement. William Willett loved his early morning horse rides, and was flabbergasted that the rest of his neighbors chose to sleep through the early morning rays. So, he wrote a pamphlet on how much Britain would benefit from rising earlier. When a bill to introduce Daylight Saving was introduced into Parliament, it was met with huge opposition. Ironically, most strongly from farmers. It is a myth that agriculture benefits from setting the clocks back. Dew still lays heavy on crops in the morning the warmer months and there is little farmer can do with them until the dew has evaporated. The bill died and Brits continued to enjoy a good night's sleep.

World War I and II did that elusive hour of sleep in for the world, however. Troops needed light for battle. Factories needed to save money on electricity by working when the sun was shining.

We've been fiddling with time ever since.

In 2005, the oddest form of greed changed Daylight Saving. Sporting manufacturers and convenience stores lobbied Congress to move the beginning of Daylight Saving up from the first Sunday in April to the second Sunday in March. Their reasoning? Money. Customers frequent their stores and/or use their products more often when the sun is out.

Oddly, the sun is not out any earlier here. In fact, we're thrown into darkness in the mornings for at least another month. Granted it's out later, but how many slurpies can a person drink in that extra 30 minutes of sunlight? 

Congress retained the right to go back to the 1986 Daylight Saving Schedule should the new one prove too contentious. In all honesty, it doesn't seem very likely that will happen. The sporting industry and convenience stores organized, lobbied, and paid for the change. A massive grassroots movement to change what dollars and cents have produced seems an almost impossible Leviathan feat.

There is hope, however. In the United States, Hawaii doesn't observe Daylight Saving. Too close to the equator for sunrise and sunset to change too much.

Think they've got room for one more sleep-deprived, Daylight Saving refugee?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Book Review Club - Jumped

by Rita Williams-Garcia

If you are looking for a book with alternating POV, look no further (says the person ensconced in graduate school). Seriously, POV is a big thing. Another tool to manipulate in the dark labs of mad writers everywhere.

Cut to mad scientist laugh. Bauhahahahaha!

All joking aside, this is a gut-wrenching book, much like "Precious." You've gotta read it, even though it's like watching a train wreck unfold in slow motion that rips your heart out and puts it back, still beating, but its rhythm changed forever.

In short, artistically, slightly full of herself but living in her own world of happiness Trina cuts in front of thuggish Dominique just before school starts. Leticia sees it happen. She also sees that Dominique is going to jump Trina for cutting her. The events unfold from there. Dominique explaining why she has to jump Trina, to set things straight. Trina, blissfully unaware Dominique is going to pummel her into the concrete, revealing how happy she is at the new school because it's got art classes. And Leticia trying to convince herself why she doesn't need to step in to stop the fight.

Each girl is so real, so pulsing with life, I expected any one of them to appear around the corner at any minute. The book is that well written. It's also gritty. Abdicating responsibility. Territorial defense. Artistic cluelessness. They all come together and leave the reader wondering, Can we all get along? Is it even possible? What kind of world are we really living in today?

Heavy stuff. Food for thought. For ponder.

Williams-Garcia doesn't let her reader off the hook. She holds you fast until the last word is spent. The last mistake made. The last ambivalence uttered. That question still thudding: What would I have done? What?



For more fascinating, fun, and full court reads, hop over to Barrie Summy's website!