Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Homemade Gifts

This year, I've decided to make gifts for my mother and sister.  I've never done that before, usually I just get them gift cards to some store that I know they shop at, like Barnes & Noble or Sephora.  This year, I decided, it would be more meaningful to put actual effort into the gift and for me, the best way to put effort into a gift is to make it.

I learned how to knit when I was 10 years old, my mother taught me.  I also learned how to do counted cross-stitch (at the age of 8) from my mother.  The only craft thing my mother did not teach me was how to crochet, I ended up taking a class to learn that craft (age 33).  My mother has been knitting and crocheting since she was a little girl, learning how to knit from her grandmother and crochet from her kindergarten teacher.  My own grandmother sewed, making all kinds of outfits first for her own children, then for her grandchildren.  My great-grandmother spent much of her life crocheting small things like doilies and edges on pillowcases and handkerchiefs; when she died in 1988, we found drawers full of boxed handkerchiefs she was planning on sending out for birthdays and holidays.  So, women in my family have been making things for several generations.

I find knitting and crocheting to be very relaxing.  I can let my mind wander, for the most part, as I sit and work my needles or hook, creating something for myself or a friend.  This past summer, I completed a baby blanket for a friend of mine.  It was knitted with a very soft pink yarn and turned out to be very lovely.  I will admit, I'm no longer a fan of pink, but it was very lovely.  I have also made scarves in both knit and crochet patterns.  My current projects include knitted socks, crocheted socks, knitted afghan, and knitted cardigan sweater.  Since I've decided to make gifts for my family, I've put those other items on hold for the time being.

I'm going to be knitting scarves for my mom and sister out of a very thick, and warm, yarn from Berroco.  The thickness of the yarns necessitates the use of needles size 35, which is about 19mm wide, depending on brand of needles.  I've never worked with needles that big before, the largest I've used were size 12 (at this time the millimeter size escapes me).  Compared to 35, 12 really isn't that big.  My size 35 needles look like large orange crayons, they're definitely not hard to miss and I don't think I'll need to be worried about losing them anytime soon.  Each scarf pattern calls for one skein of the Berroco Link yarn, so I bought 3 skeins.  This way, I can make one for all 3 of us, but the scarves will not all be matching.  All 3 skeins are dark, wintry colors -- black/grey/white, green/brown/yellow, tan/brown/dark green.  The ladies at the local knitting shop where I purchased the yarn and needles told me that this particular yarn was very popular.  I have to say, it has quickly become one of my favorites to work with.

I am always open to trying new types of yarn and there are a wide variety to choose from every time I go to my local knitting shop.  The owners of the shop are lifelong knitters/crocheters and love what they do.  I find this store to be a "safe" place, I feel right at home whenever I walk through the door.  All of the yarns in the shop are from companies within the USA, and many of the creators of the yarn are small businesses -- family owned companies that started in some one's great-grandparents' barn or something and managed to flourish into a family owned small business (I have to say I like that aspect quite a bit as well).  This shop even carries yarn from businesses located right here in Colorado, which is really great!

Most people, when they think of yarn, immediately think of either wool or cotton.  Anymore, it seems that yarn can be made out of anything.  Here in Colorado, there are businesses that use sheeps' wool for their yarns but there are also a lot alpaca farms, and every year (in time for the warmer months) the alpaca are shorn (much like sheep, but they look a little more odd "naked" than sheep do) and their coats are then washed and brushed and washed etc. and then spun into yarn.  Actually, the process for both sheep and alpacas (I am led to believe from talking to the professionals) is very lengthy as the shorn coats are processed into the variety of yarns I purchase at my local shop.  I bow in respect to our Colorado sheep and alpaca growers (breeders? farmers?) and thank them for the lovely yarns that come from their animals.

I rarely use wool yarns, as I haven't had a project that required it yet (I have used blended yarns where wool is one of three materials listed).  I have used a lot of cotton yarns, as well as blended yarns.  I love working with alpaca yarn, in many ways it reminds me of wool, but is lighter in some ways.  I've made scarves out of it and they turned out very lovely.  I have used yarns made out of nylon, acrylic, silk, mohair and bamboo.  Now, the bamboo yarn was the most fascinating and fun to work with.  It was flat, unlike most yarns which are round.  I made a crocheted scarf with the bamboo yarn, which turned out very lovely.  The bamboo did not need to be washed and stretched upon completion of the project (which is done with some projects, especially large ones like sweaters and blankets).  I'd like to make something else with bamboo yarn, but I'm not sure what it will be yet.  I have not worked with linen yarn yet, but have several patterns that call for linen.

The yarn I'm currently using for my gifts, Berroco Link, is 50% wool and 50% acrylic.  It's very soft and is going to result in very warm scarves.  I decided on making scarves because, to be perfectly honest, I decided a bit late on what I was going to give for gifts this year.  Scarves are the easiest and fastest thing I can make, knitted or crocheted.  I would have liked to do something bigger, possible a mitten/hat/scarf set but will definitely need longer than 39 days to get the sets completed, so I'm going with scarves.  Next year, I can do the bigger projects.

I'm hopeful that they will love their scarves!  Once the holidays are finished, I'll go back to focusing on my other pending projects and hopefully end up with new socks and a new sweater to wear.  Cheers to that!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thoughts on Captive by Clara Rojas

When I am in a bookstore I have a tendency to just wander around until a book jumps out at me.  On occasion, I will go to the bookstore with the intention of purchasing a specific book, but most of the time I just like to wander and see what jumps out at me.

That's how I came across the book Captive by Clara Rojas.  I was wandering around the bookstore, drinking some wonderfully pomegranate flavored tea when I came across this memoir.  I kind of run hot/cold on memoirs, finding some of them to be really quite wonderful and others to be really quite self-centered, but I grabbed this book from the shelf and looked at it.  At the bottom of the front cover it says "2,147 Days of Terror in the Colombian Jungle".  Well, that made me flip the book to the back cover to read about this book, which I promptly added to my growing stack of books.

Captive is the story of Clara Rojas' kidnapping by the Colombian guerrilla army, FARC, and the years she spent held as their hostage.  Rojas was kidnapped in 2002, along with her then friend Ingrid Betancourt, and was held until 2008, when a negotiation mediated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba resulted in the release of Clara Rojas, Consuelo Gonzales and Rojas' young son, Emmanuel (whom she conceived and delivered in the jungle while held in captivity).  This book was translated from Spanish to English by Adriana V. Lopez (I don't really know if that makes any kind of difference to a reader, it certainly doesn't make a difference to me, I love reading works by authors from all over the world and I am greatly appreciative of the fact that there are people out there who can translate their works for me to enjoy).  Rojas lays out the details of her captivity with clarity and, in my opinion, honesty.  She is very real about how she felt during those years as a hostage of the FARC and in many ways I think this made her perseverance more amazing to me.

The book begins with what she was doing the day before she was kidnapped and then moves forward to her life after release.  Unlike some memoirs, where the author takes you on a daily or even weekly trip with them, Rojas tells her story according to the theme of the chapter.  Each chapter is titled, things like "The Day Before the Kidnapping" or "Doubt and Anxiety" or "Pastimes", and within that chapter the story followed the the idea presented in the title.  I liked that presentation of her story, it presented her story on several layers and gave a good picture of what the hostages did at each camp they were held at.

After finishing this book on July 20, 2011, I felt a lot of things.  I was glued to this story, Rojas' is a very strong woman, I think.  I don't know if I'd be able to hold up as well if I were to be in that same situation.  I guess you never know just how strong you are until. . . I don't know, I guess until that's all you have.  Clara Rojas was strong on many levels while in captivity.  I definitely believe her faith and belief in God helped see her through days that could have resulted in a weaker person taking their own life to end the pain.  Hope, she had a lot of that.  She hoped to one day see her mother and brother and the rest of her family.  She hoped to one day be free and away from that hot jungle.  I believe that faith and hope can get a person very far in this world, it's when you lose all hope and all faith, that you're soul dies.  That's my own personal belief, and I think in some ways reading about Ms. Rojas' captivity, it made me look at my own beliefs in a way.

I believe she is strong, and as a strong woman she was able to survive her ordeal by remaining hopeful.  There were definitely points where she fell into a depression, who wouldn't?  In her case, I think those times of depression only resulted in strengthening her resolve to remain hopeful and believe that God was with her and would take care of her.  That's some pretty strong belief right there.  I admire that about her, actually.  I admire that her faith figured so strongly for her during the 6 years she was held by the FARC.  I honestly don't know if I would be able to find that strength in my own faith.  My religious beliefs waiver on many occasions and at this point in time, I'm rebuilding my own beliefs and figuring out what where God is in my life and quite possibly where I am in His/Hers.

Clara Rojas' friendship with Ingrid Betancourt fell apart while they were captives, which is unfortunate, but maybe it was also for the best.  I wonder if, in some ways, if this was a friendship that fits in the "reasons, seasons, lifetime" type of process.  Possibly this was a friendship for a reason -- Rojas was an attorney who worked on Betancourt's political campaign and they were both from the same party?  Possibly this was a friendship for a season -- political allies traveling together through FARC controlled territory to discuss party issues with allies in another Colombian city?  I don't know, but I don't think this was a friendship that was meant to be a lifetime one.  The way Clara describes the discussions she had with Ingrid leading up to the day they were kidnapped, it did not seem to me that these were two women who shared a sisterly type of love and friendship for one another.  I could be wrong, of course.  Although I think it is for the best that their friendship ended, I was saddened by the pain that Rojas felt as their friendship fell apart.  It is always painful to lose a friend and I can sympathize with Rojas as she lost the only friend she had in the jungle.  Overall, by the end of the ordeal, Clara shows herself to be the bigger person when it came to Ingrid.

I was curious about the fact that she gave birth to a son in the middle of the jungle and wondered for most of the book how it happened.  Not so much how she got pregnant, I know all about the birds and the bees, but more wondering if there was going to be some kind of love story wrapped into this captivity story.  I couldn't really imagine falling in love with someone in the middle of something so stressful as a hostage crisis, but stranger things have happened to people and since I'm not in her shoes, I can't really say I know anything about it anyway.  The thing I have to say I respect and admire about this particular part of her story is that she chooses to keep it private.  She does not, as she relates the story of her pregnancy and harrowing delivery, go into detail about how she came to be pregnant, she does not reveal the identity of the father, does not indicate if he was a guerrilla or a fellow hostage.  What she does is say that she has decided to leave the details of her pregnancy for a time when her son, Emmanuel, approaches her and asks.  I like that.  It makes sense, because, honestly, it's none of my business how she came to be pregnant, what is my business is what is on the page and I respect that she is choosing not to tell me anything more.  She manages to survive an unexpected pregnancy at the age of 39 in the middle of the Colombian jungle and delivers with little medical comfort -- a male nurse, a female nurse and a group of guerrillas providing light and support.  Here's the kicker -- due to complications, her son is brought into this world in a hut by Cesarean section while she is heavily sedated, and a single 100 watt light bulb shining over them.  I realize there are people out there who will say "women have been giving birth much longer than there's been doctors and modern medicine and hospitals" but really?  No woman should have to be delivered by C-section by a nurse in the middle of a jungle while being held against her will, and yet that's what happened to Clara Rojas and it's pretty amazing that she and her son survived.

At that point in the book, I had to go online and see if I could find a picture of her and her son.  I was curious to see them.  On the cover of the book, there is a small picture of her, but I wanted a better one.  I actually wanted to see her smiling, I thought "I bet she has one of those smiles that feels like the warmth of the sun upon your skin".  I was right too.  She does.  There are several pictures of her alone as well as pictures of her with her son and her family (the family ones are from when she arrived in Venezuela after her release).  She does have a warm smile.  The birth of her son is a miracle really, given the little medical resources that were available.  After his birth, she continues to push forward, wanting to live and survive for her son and her mother, because she knew one day she'd be with her mother again.  Hope.  Faith.  Strength.

Unfortunately, young Emmanuel becomes ill and after attempting to deal with the parasitic infection he gets from a bug bite, he is taken away from Clara to be treated.  He was only 8 months old when they took him away from her, and she wouldn't see him again until close to his 4th birthday.  Now that's what I call heartbreaking, and she definitely was heartbroken but she still had that strength of spirit or strength of will, but she knew that she'd see him again.  This is a woman that the word "pessimism" is not in the vocabulary for.  Neither is "skepticism".  Through the efforts of President Hugo Chavez and Senator Piedad Cordoba, the hostages discovered that Clara and Consuelo would be released to the Red Cross International, as well as Emmanuel, and they would be sent to Venezuela to be reunited with their families.  Her hope and faith and strength saw her through to the day she'd been praying for, but of course it was going to take awhile for her to actually taste sweet freedom, but not once did I get the impression that she didn't realize this either.  She was practical and realistic, while remaining hopeful in the knowledge that she would soon be out of that jungle and safe with her family.  How can someone not lose their mind at the thought of being free?  I think I would have gone crazy in the days leading up to my freedom, especially since there was no specific date set.  But, she remained calm outwardly (she does admit that she rejoiced inwardly, thanking God repeatedly), and she just made sure she was prepared because at any moment the Commandante could tell her she was leaving to go home.  The days leading up to freedom coincided with the Christmas and New Year's holidays and each day, as people around the world were eagerly looking forward towards opening presents and welcoming in a new year with new possibilities, she was looking forward to a day when she would see her son and mother again, and be able to taste the sweetness of freedom.

I am an emotional person and, while I was able to maintain most of my calm while reading her story, I have to admit I fought back tears as she related what it was like seeing the Red Cross International helicopters and flying out of the jungle towards the Colombian/Venezuelan border, leaving the copters and getting on a plane to be reunited with her family, scanning the crowd to find her mother as the plane taxied to a stop.  All of that just made my heart leap and tears came to my eyes.  I think she probably downplayed just how wonderful she felt as she landed and was able to actually touch her mother and her nieces and brother and cousins.  She was surrounded by media as she was reunited with her family, but it doesn't seem like they were suffocating.  Maybe that's how she chose to report it, maybe they really weren't all that suffocating, I don't know.  I mean, I've seen on the news how the media can rush at someone to get comments, but I've also seen how the media maintains a respectful distance in some situations, so maybe the media did it that way, remained at a respectful distance and just snapped pictures and waited patiently for her to give a press conference.  I kind of think not though.  Anyway, it was the way Clara was greeted by her family that tore at my heart.  She said she saw her mother who was now using a walker (she hadn't been using one the last time Clara saw her, so I'm sure it was a shock) and her mother took her face in her hands and looked at her.  Oh, tug at my heartstrings, why don't you?  I will admit, tears fell when I read about being reunited with her son, who thankfully had been delivered into the hands of the Colombian child welfare services organization and had been treated for his infection and was well fed and healthy by the time she saw him.  This is just happy ending all around, really.

Based on how Clara Rojas ends her book, where she talks about being able to forgive those who held her and her son captive, and being able to move forward with her life and returning to a normal life, I have to say she came out of this remarkably intact.  Her soul was not destroyed and she has learned something that so many of us don't always truly learn -- how to forgive those who have hurt us.  It's not easy being able to forgive someone for a wrong they have done against us, and I would think that being held captive for 6 years and being separated from your own child for 4 years would qualify for an unforgivable act, yet she has forgiven her captors.  She has dedicated her life to fighting for what she believes is right, working to release more hostages from the FARC, as well as working to improve child welfare and the environment.  I admire her, on a lot of levels.  If I could end up with a tenth of the strength this woman has, I'd consider myself pretty lucky.  I am adding Ms. Rojas to my list of people I admire and who have had an impact on me.  I don't think her story is one that I am going to forget, ever, but I think it will stick with me for quite some time.  This is an example of strength of the human spirit, and I'm glad to have been able to learn about it.

To Ms. Clara Rojas, I am humbled by your story and wish to send my thoughts and prayers to you and your son, Emmanuel.  I hope your continued efforts to release more hostages are so successful that one day you won't have to work so hard because there won't be any hostages!  Bless you, Ms. Rojas!  I hope one day, I may meet you and tell you in person just how remarkable I think you are.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Life's for Sharing -- UK T-Mobile commercials

I enjoy watching videos on YouTube.  I find them fun and entertaining and there's such a large variety that it's never really boring.  I usually watch fun videos, like the baby that dances to the Beyonce "Single Ladies" video (I never get tired of watching that), or music videos, like Lady Gaga's "Born This Way".  I even subscribe to video channels, which is a great way to keep track of newly uploaded videos from some of my favorite celebs and amateur film makers.

Well, one of the Channels I subscribe to is Life's for Sharing, which is the T-Mobile UK ad campaign. In case you haven't seen these Life's for Sharing videos, they are very creative.  They involve a flash mob style of activity, usually large groups of people spontaneously joining large dance numbers.  There are some fun ones.  I have two favorites: T-Mobile Welcome Back which was shot at Heathrow Airport and The T-Mobile Royal Wedding, which debuted in the UK about a week before the Royal Wedding of Price William to (now) Princess Catherine (there's also one that takes place at a train station in London, but I don't think it's Victoria Station; that video is a fun one too!).  In addition to the actual videos, there are a lot of uploads from Life's for Sharing of behind the scenes footage, showing how they put the singers and musical performers and dancers in the two videos I mentioned above together.  The behind the scenes videos are almost as fun to watch as the actual ads.  I really wish T-Mobile did ads like this here in the USA, I would completely audition to be in one; it just looks like so much fun!

This post is specifically about the Welcome Back video.  It makes me cry.  I love it, so I watch it a lot and every time, at the end, I cry.

The way Heathrow Airport is set up, all people waiting for disembarking passengers are located in a specific area outside the security doors.  Similar to here in the US, if you don't have a ticket you can't go past security.  Well, anyway, there are a lot of people waiting for their loved ones, friends, etc to appear.  The first thing you see is a young couple greeting one another and a blond woman with a single white rose approaches the couple singing "At Last" and suddenly a few other people are making sounds like instruments (a violin, an upright bass, drums) and this couple is serenaded.  That's the beginning and it just continues to escalate.  There are singers and music performers of all ages and races, and they approach disembarking passengers and airline staff, singing a wide variety of songs.  The last song is "Welcome Back" and images begin to fly across the screen of passengers greeting their loved ones.  More and more people begin to join in and clap for the performers and there are hugs and kisses as people greet each other.  That makes me cry.  I cry the moment these performers break out into that last song and I can't help it.  I just get that stinging feeling in my eyes and tears begin to flow.  I'm not sure what it is about that song, or possibly that segment of this video.  I smile and tap my feet to all of the other songs and I enjoy the expressions on the faces of people as they are greeted and sung to, but "Welcome Back" hits me, it hits my heart.  I just get so emotional.

I think it is wonderful when passengers are met by their friends or family when they get through security at an airport.  It's a great feeling to see someone waiting for you as you head to baggage claim.  I, personally, have not had that kind of experience, a loved one waiting to greet me on the way to baggage claim, but I do smile every time people call out to a passenger who has just made his/her way to baggage claim.  I definitely love when family and friends are at airports to greet their military loved ones who are returning from the Middle East, oh that just tugs at my heart strings.  I think something like the Welcome Home video being actively done at airports where military service men and women are arriving would be so great!  These men and women are fighting a very long war and, even though I do think many of them know how much the American people appreciate the work they do, I think being sung to and welcomed home by a crowd of singers and music performers would just go that extra mile to really let them know "Thank you for your service to our country".

That's not why I cry when I see the video though, at least I don't think that's why.  These songs are fun and poignant and the expressions of disembarking passengers are priceless, yet I cry during "Welcome Home".  I don't really have anyone to welcome home, I guess.  I don't have a loved one in the military who is returning home after serving in The Desert.  I no longer get to welcome my dad home from his trips.  So, who am I going to welcome back?  I don't know.  I just think the last segment of the video is so beautiful and heartwarming, I have to cry.

I really recommend the Life's for Sharing videos (all of them) but here's the link to the Welcome Back video filmed at Heathrow Airport in October 2010 -- (hopefully it plays for you).


Saturday, April 02, 2011

My Hair

I have had a love/hate relationship with my hair.  I had long hair, well somewhat long, until I was 11 years old.  Up until my 11th year, my hair rested nicely about 2 inches below my shoulder blade.  Then, when we moved to Spain and it was time for us to go to the salon on the Air Force base, the stylist cut my hair to just about chin level.  It was shorter than I had ever had it and at first I really liked it, but as years went on and my hair just never returned to its original length, I began to not like having "medium" length hair.

Now, I have done all kinds of things to my hair as well, as far as styling is concerned.  My mother found my hair difficult to deal with in its "natural" state, so she started getting it relaxed.  Chemical relaxers are very popular among African-Americans and my mother was told that it would make my hair more manageable so I started having relaxers done.  I don't know how old I was, but I do remember going to see the stylist my grandmother went to in Madera.  Miss Kelly, I think her name was, and she had 2 daughters who were teenagers and helped out at her salon.  I remember that there was this soda machine that dispensed sodas in glass bottles and the bottle cap opener was in the machine.  I always got a strawberry soda out of there, usually my mom or one of my Aunts would buy it for me and I was always really excited for that.  Miss Kelly would make me sit on a stack of phone books and, when my hair was dry, she'd always style it the same as one of her daughters, cause I thought her daughters were oh so pretty.

When I was in 6th grade, I decided to have a Jerry Curl done.  I don't think I spelled that correctly, but I don't know if that really matters.  Anyway, if you've seen Eddie Murphy's movie, Coming to America, you may remember the Soul Glo hair products that his rival, played by Eriq LaSalle, sold.  Well, the hairstyle that used the Soul Glo products is a Jerry Curl.  Yeah, I had my own wet looking curly hairstyle that I put rather smelly (in a bad way) products on to make it look wet.  I had that hairstyle for 2 years and then when we moved back to US and before 8th grade started, I went back to the chemical relaxer and I've been doing those ever since.

So, here we are all these years later and my relationship with my hair hasn't really changed.  I continue to get chemical relaxers (which, by the way, if you've seen Chris Rock's documentary, Good Hair, well there are definitely pros and cons to getting a relaxer done but ultimately, I think it needs to be a decision that is made by the mother in regards to her daughters, fathers truly have no idea how the relationship between women and their hair works, so while I respect that Mr. Rock does not want his daughters putting something on their hair that can eat through a soda can, well, until he has the kind of relationship with his hair that women have with theirs, he truly will never understand why we do what we do to our hair).  There are other options, in regards to what I do to my hair.  I could get a weave or braids.  I could chop it all off and go natural.  Or, I could choose to continue having relaxers done.  I'm just not the type of person who can sit in a chair for 8+ hours getting braids put in and I'm not really sure about the weave aspect either.  A weave (and braids) would make my hair longer, absolutely, but there are pros and cons to them as well.

So, my relationship with my hair.  Stress started turning my black hairs to white when I was 26.  It was a strand here and a strand there, not a whole lot.  There was a time when I could actually count all of the white hairs on my head and tell people exactly how many I had, but now I have more than I can count.  I have a lot at my front temples.  I think they look nice and make me seem wise (now whether I really am wise is up for debate at this time).  When my father died, I started having major breakage.  I was combing out a lot of hair.  More than usual, actually.  We all lose hair on a daily basis, but it's just a couple or few strands, not enough to really make a person freak out or worry.  Well, after dad died, I got a lot more white hairs and I started combing out clumps of hair, from all over my head.  My stylist suggested I start using these hair/nail/skin pills to help rejuvenate and strengthen the hair follicles.  I am not sure if it did anything for my hair but I will say that I've noticed that my nails are a lot stronger than they were before I started the supplements.  So, hmm.  I did notice that my hair wasn't falling out quite as much and that there weren't as many hairs in my comb, so I thought "yay, my hair is no longer grieving".  It made sense, to me.  After 5 months of grief counseling, I felt better and was able to talk about my father's passing without getting choked up or crying, so I thought my hair was also at that acceptance stage.

I think I was wrong.  I had a hair appointment this past Friday and well, my hair was still grieving or stressed or feeding off the negativity that stress generates cause it was breaking off, a lot.  I had a lot of damage, a lot of areas where the hair had broken off and frayed.  So, I had to get my hair trimmed, more like cut.  It's in significantly shorter sections.  I have never had my hair cut like this before.  I have to kind of comb it out with my fingers to make it volume-y.  I need to get used to that.  I bought this hair-goop-molder-stuff, something I know absolutely nothing about and have never used before, but I got it to try to help me fluff up my short lengths and help with styling.  I am about to learn about hair products that I've never actually seen used in the real world.  I put hair/scalp cream on my hair and scalp after I wash it, I put a nighttime moisturizer on my hair before wrapping it in a silk scarf at bedtime.  I put a lightweight hair oil made out of macadamia nuts (or the Tui tree or avocado or any other moisturizing type of oil recommended for African-American hair) on a daily basis to keep it moisturized and soft and frizz free.  In a dry climate, like Colorado's, African-American hair needs some extra TLC to keep it from drying out and becoming damaged, especially if it's in in a natural state (it takes work to maintain an Afro or locks, they need to be moisturized, same with the relaxed, weaved and braided/rowed).

So, I'm not sure about it being this length.  I am worried.  I am concerned that I'm not going to be able to style it properly.  I'm worried that it makes me look too hip or not hip enough.  I'm worried that halfway through the day it will drop down and go completely flat (which is why I bought that goop-volume-styling product thing).  It does look kind of cool though and I do kind of look more my age, I think.  I bought these really cute hairpins to decorate my style, since I don't think I'll be wearing headbands with this style.  They are cute hairpins and in different colors, cause I need to be able to accessorize.  Right now I sound so freaking girly!  Oh well, they are cute and I am not at all ashamed of how girly they make me sound.  With the way it is cut though, I think I'm going to have to curl it everyday, rather than having a day where it just goes without styling.  It doesn't look quite as nice flat and unstyled/uncurled.  My boyfriend said he's getting used to it and thinks it's cute.  My mom didn't really say much, other than noticing that it was shorter.  My sister didn't say anything, but that's in her nature.

I'm not usually a vain person, and I never really thought my hair was my greatest feature or anything, but now that it's shorter, I miss what was cut off.  It just doesn't seem like me anymore, it's like I'm a different person now or something.  I mean, I know I'm not, I'm still Tara, but it just makes me feel like I am different with shorter hair.  It's not as short as it could possibly go, definitely not as short as Halle Berry, but it's shorter than what I'm used to.  So, it will take some time and some practice and I'm sure I'll get used to it and figure out how to use that styling product stuff that helps make curls more voluminous.

Well, here's to trying new things!  Cheers to you all!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Review of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I first read this book in the Spring Semester of my junior year at Pacific Lutheran University, which was sometime between February and May 1997. At the time, I was 21 and still reeling from the beauty and power of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. My American Literature Professor introduced this book to us with fervor and excitement. He was a big fan of Zora Neale Hurston and was very excited to introduce his students to this book he loved so much. He feverishly called this novel a great masterpiece of African-American literature and said it belonged with other great authors like Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. By the time we finished the book, I was disappointed in it. I did not agree with my Professor about the greatness of this novel. In fact, I hated the book and did not like any of the characters. It was my opinion, at the time and for well over a decade, that this book could not hold a candle to Beloved or The Color Purple.

Over the past couple years, my 1997 opinion of this novel has been challenged by people I know (family) and people I don’t know, but wish I did (the Goodreads community). I greatly appreciate the challenges put before me by book lovers on Goodreads and have found their arguments, both in support of my original review as well as against it, were enough to convince me to give this book a second read.

I have reread books after a decade (or longer) has gone by, mainly to see if my opinion of the story has changed. I have been surprised at times, but for the most part, my opinions rarely change. I still love The Diary of Anne Frank (first read in 1990, age 14), To Kill a Mockingbird (first read in 1990, age 14) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass (first read in 1988, age 12). I changed my mind about Catcher in the Rye (loved it in 1993, age 17, but loathed it in 2007, age 31). I changed my mind about Julie and Julia (disliked at end of first read; liked after second read).

Which brings me back to Their Eyes Were Watching God – the question is: have I changed my opinion of this book?

The edition of the book I read is a copy I purchased in a rather wonderful used bookstore in Boulder, CO. I bought this book during the summer of 2009 with every intention of reading it at that time. The copy I purchased had an attractive cover, a cover that I have stared at quite often while rereading this book. This particular edition has a foreword by Edwidge Danticat and an afterword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I have to admit here that I am not familiar with Ms. Danticat, but I enjoyed her foreword. I learned a lot more about Zora Neale Hurston from Ms. Danticat’s foreword than I remember learning in my American Lit class at PLU. It was in this foreword that I learned that Ms. Hurston was in Haiti doing research when she wrote this novel. I also did not know that Ms. Hurston was an anthropologist; my Professor told us that she was a relatively unknown author who became famous posthumously, but I have since learned that Ms. Hurston was pretty well known during the Harlem Renaissance and slowly disappeared from the literary landscape until being rediscovered by Alice Walker in the 1970s. So, I’m not trying to say he was wrong, but maybe he didn’t do enough research about his “favorite” African-American author before teaching us about this book. Just a thought. Anyway, after reading Edwidge Danticat’s foreword, I was actually looking forward to rereading this book.

As I proceeded into the actual story, there were several things that I had forgotten about the basic story. I forgot that Janie was married twice before meeting Tea Cake, I only remembered one marriage. I did not remember her marriage to Logan Killicks. What an odd marriage they had. To be perfectly honest, after 14 years the only thing I remembered about the plot was that Tea Cake is bit by a “mad” dog while trying to save Janie from the same dog and I remembered that there was a hurricane. So, in some ways, I felt like I was reading this book for the first time.

I have to say I really liked the way Ms. Hurston described the scenes, settings and characters. One of my favorite descriptions is of Mrs. Bogle; although Mrs. Bogle is a grandmother, she “had a blushing air of coquetry about her that cloaked her sunken cheeks. You saw a fluttering fan before her face and magnolia blooms and sleepy lakes under the moonlight when she walked. There was no obvious reason for it, it was just so.” (Page 69) and “She was a wind on the ocean. She moved men, but the helm determined the port.” (Page 70). Whew! That’s definitely a woman who turns heads. My other favorite descriptions lie on page 84: “Death, that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof.”, and “Rumor, that wingless bird, had shadowed over the town.” Mrs. Bogle is something beyond human in her appearance and walk, while Death and Rumor become flesh, one a man and the other a bird but both perplex those around them.

Hurston does more than write, she paints. Whether it is through the conversations of the characters or the narration between conversations, each scene is painted in a way that lets the reader see and feel and experience the same thing as the characters. As the reader meets Janie in the beginning of the novel, we clearly see her walking by all those eyes, ignoring all the noises coming from those poisonous mouths. We hear the women as they talk about her, hissing like a pit of vipers, wondering where her man is and if he robbed her blind and ran off with a younger woman. There’s nothing like hateful, catty women who will say anything to break down one of their own in order to make themselves feel better. Hurston couldn’t have described them better when Janie calls them “The Mouth-Almighty”. I’m actually going to adopt that phrase for the frenemies in my own life.

As much as I would love to continue my praise of the way Ms. Hurston writes and her use of imagery and authentic vernacular (which I enjoyed immensely) I think I should move onto the characters and my thoughts of them.

In 1997, one of my biggest complaints was about the characters. I recently reread the review I posted of this book on Goodreads back in 2007, and in that review I stated that I did not find the characters to be likeable nor did I feel any kind of sympathy towards any of them when I read this book in college. In 1997 (and still today), I was a fan of the following African-American female characters: Sethe (Beloved), Miss Celie and Shug Avery (The Color Purple), and Edana “Dana” Franklin (Kindred). My American Lit Professor put Janie in the same category as these characters and I protested that decision at that time. I have changed my mind about Janie. Janie is a strong woman with a certain amount of independence and stubbornness that sometimes could get her in trouble. I think the best decision she made was when she left Eatonville to be with Tea Cake down in the Everglades. Of course, if she hadn’t left Logan Killicks to be with Joe “Jody” Starks, she never would have met Tea Cake but that’s not really the point. Tea Cake was her true love, not the other two men.

Joe Starks = big talker. Now, here’s a man who could convince paint to peel itself from the wall. He is definitely a man with a plan. I didn’t dislike Joe, I think he knew what he wanted and how to be a leader when there weren’t any, but I didn’t really like him either. I was bothered by his attitude toward Janie when he got sick, but I do think it made sense (in a way). Joe had spent so much time telling Janie what to do and how to do things and how to act, that it caught him completely by surprise when she finally talked back to him (which she did in a public fashion, in front of several men who hung out at Joe’s shop/post office). In some ways, it makes sense that he would concoct this idea in his head that Janie had jinxed him or made him sick in some way because her comments that day in the store were not a common occurrence. Of course she would suddenly have the courage to speak up and speak out if she was poisoning him in an effort to kill him, except that Joe Starks has it all wrong. His illness had nothing to do with Janie, but unfortunately, once your heart has gone cold towards someone it’s very easy to blame them for every wrong you’ve experienced. In the end, as big a talker as Joe Starks was, he wasn’t really as big a man as he tried to make others believe he was.

Tea Cake: well, I’m a bit torn on this character. I can’t say I liked him much, actually. I do believe that Janie made a good decision when she decided to leave Eatonville with Tea Cake and live her life elsewhere. Tea Cake was very good to Janie, which I don’t think she was prepared for but it made her love for him all that much more genuine (and same with his for her).

I felt that Tea Cake’s reasoning behind why he beat Janie (pages 147-148) made me dislike him some. He felt it was important for Mrs. Turner to know that he was in charge and that Janie was his, so why beat Janie? Why not just tell Mrs. Turner? She is a busy-body type of person with hurtful opinions about Tea Cake, but hurting Janie isn’t going to make Mrs. Turner think any better of him or be discouraged from trying to convince Janie to leave Tea Cake because he’s “too black”. Tea Cake explains why he did it in a conversation with Sop-de-Bottom, one of the men from the town, “Janie is wherever Ah wants tuh be. Dat’s de kind uh wife she is and Ah love her for it. Ah wouldn’t be knockin’ her around. Ah didn’t wants whup her last night, but ol’ Mis’ Turner done sent for her brother tuh come tuh bait Janie in and take her away from me. Ah didn’t whup Janie ‘cause she done nothin’. Ah beat her tuh show dem Turners who is boss. Ah set in de kitchen one day and heard dat woman tell mah wife Ah’m too black fur her. She don’t see how Janie can stand me.” (page 148). Obviously, he was hurt and offended by Mrs. Turner’s actions, but it just doesn’t make sense to me to beat Janie for Mrs. Turner’s insensitivity and self-imposed superiority towards him. I’ve been insulted and offended by the ignorance and insensitivity of others, but I’m not going to beat my best friend or my boyfriend as a way to show others who the boss is. Thing is, life was different for Tea Cake and Janie, and things that seem logical then may not necessarily be so now. I accept and appreciate that and it does make me understand why he did what he did (I just don’t like that he did it).

Overall, my favorite part of the book is the period that begins with Janie and Tea Cake leaving town because of the hurricane and ends with the deliverance of the verdict at Janie’s trial. This period of the story is, in my opinion, the biggest show of how much Tea Cake and Janie loved each other. There are several times, during the flooding, where Tea Cake saves Janie from drowning, even though each rescue leaves him a little more drained. Janie also makes an effort to care for Tea Cake as they escape the floods; she tries to protect him from the wind but the piece of roof she finds flies off, almost taking her with it, which results in her almost drowning (again). Thankfully, a cow comes swimming by, with a wet and angry dog riding its back. The dog. I saw a picture once of a dog floating on a piece of furniture, waiting to be rescued from a flooded area and it didn’t look mad or angry at all, actually it appeared frightened and sad and miserably wet. As it was rescued from the water, it wagged its tale and licked the face of its rescuer. There is definitely something wrong with the dog in this book, and possibly under different circumstances Janie would have had warning bells going off in her head. I don’t think she took the dog’s actions to be those of a “mad” dog but rather as those of a dog protecting its territory – the cow.

The dog first attempts to attack Janie and then ends up biting Tea Cake as he wrestles with it. Growling and snarling and attacking are definitely things a dog does when it is trying to protect its territory. The dog is wet and miserable, so it does make sense that he would be growling and it would even make sense that he growls and barks at Janie as she grabs hold of the cow’s tail. It gets more frightening when the dog starts fighting and bites Tea Cake as he tries to keep it from biting Janie. The thing is, I think Tea Cake knew that the dog was sick; he wasn’t trying to calm it down when he grabbed it, his intention was to kill it but it struggled against him which he wasn’t expecting. I don’t think Janie knew that the dog was sick, not until three weeks later when Tea Cake became ill and started acting strange.

Janie loves Tea Cake so much that she is willing to spend every penny she has to cure him, which isn’t possible. She also loves him enough to end his life and put him out of his misery. I admire her very much at this point in the novel. She knows that the day will come when she may have to either kill him or put him in a hospital and she begins to mentally keep track of all the changes that Tea Cake goes through as his illness gets worse. She sees him turning into someone else, a stranger. The kind man she fell in love with is no longer home, and is replaced by a jealous stranger who is a danger to her and himself. She took precautions with the guns in the home, making sure she knew where they were and if they were loaded or unloaded. I think she knew that the day was coming when she’d need to protect herself. When she does finally take action against Tea Cake, I think it was out of her love for him that she was able to kill him. It was both an act of self-defense and an act of love, and I do think that the jury saw that during her trial.

Janie’s arrest and trial raised several questions for me. The arrest and trial happened on the same day, shortly after Doctor Simmons told the Judge and sheriff “how it was”, which I took to mean he told them about the rabies and the bite marks Tea Cake left on Janie’s arm as he died. Get her tried quickly so she can be treated as soon as possible? Was that the driving force behind why the trial happened so quickly? The trial itself was also very interesting to me. I found it interesting that neither the District Attorney nor Janie’s defense attorney called any of the members of the Black community forward to testify. They all wanted to, that was obvious, and it was obvious they all were standing in judgment of Janie’s actions, but in accordance with the laws of the time, it was a jury of twelve White men who sat in judgment of her. These jurors knew nothing about Tea Cake or Janie, and they knew nothing about the loving and wonderful relationship that the Black community had seen between Tea Cake and Janie. In the eyes of her own community, she was a murderer and an ungrateful woman, yet it was up to the White community to pass judgment. I found it interesting that the District Attorney, Mr. Prescott, had no interest in calling any members of the Black community to testify about Tea Cake or Janie. He made it very clear to Sop-de-Bottom, at one point, that he didn’t need or want the testimony of him or any other member of the Black community in this case. Why? Weren’t they perfect witnesses for the prosecution? Weren’t they the best ones to speak out against the character of Janie, the accused murderess, and on behalf of Tea Cake, the loving, angel of a man who devoted his life to Janie?

Actually, I think the trial was a farce committed to keep an angry community from growing angrier and causing harm to the larger population in the form of an uprising. I am under no impression that the Judge, the Sheriff, the DA or the jury truly believed that Janie acted in malice or with ill intent towards Tea Cake. I’m sure Doctor Simmons told the Judge and sheriff that Tea Cake was in the downward decline attributed to untreated rabies and it had only been a matter of time before he killed Janie, or someone else; she was acting in self-defense when she fired upon Tea Cake, nothing more and nothing less. I don’t think any member of the White community, who was sitting in that courtroom, thought Janie was guilty the way the Black community did, and I base that first on how long it took the jury to deliberate. I’ve worked in the Judicial system for 12 years and, usually, when a jury deliberates for less than 15 minutes, there’s a pretty good chance the jury already knows how they are going to rule and knew their decision long before testimony was completed. It doesn’t always mean they come back with Not Guilty verdicts, there have been many times where our jurors deliberated for 5 minutes and came back finding the defendants guilty. It just means that they already knew what they were going to do and the testimony gave them the justification they needed for their verdict. In Janie’s trial, the jury was out five minutes before finding “the death of Vergible Woods to be entirely accidental and justifiable, and that no blame should rest upon the defendant Janie Woods.” (page 188). The farce worked, the Black community is appeased (and somewhat ashamed of its actions towards Janie) and Janie was acquitted of any wrong doing.

In the end, when Janie returns to Eatonville, she is a woman who has grown and lived a full life. She discovered there were things that she wasn’t willing to do just because a man told her to and she discovered there were things she loved doing cause the man she loved, loved them. She found true love, the kind that keeps you warm on a cold day. She learned about the power of love and how it can not only save those you love the most but also save you. She returned home a changed, and seemingly, better woman.

So, time for the answer to the question – has my opinion of this book changed from when I first read it in 1997? Yes, it has. In 1997 (and in the review I put on Goodreads) I said this book was okay, but not good, and I said I hated it. Well, I’m changing that comment. Zora Neale Hurston’s writing is beautifully descriptive and her characters are engaging. Through the strong narration of Janie, the reader is taken on a journey of growth and self-discovery. For me, the bigger question is did I like this book more now than I did in 1997? Yes and no. I liked Janie a little more after rereading this book, but I didn’t like Tea Cake any more (or less) than when I first read this. I like books where a character perseveres and overcomes some situation, and I think Janie overcame quite a bit in this book, and I do like her more now than I did in 1997, but she is not one of my favorite heroines. I still really like Sethe, Miss Celie, Shug Avery and Edana “Dana” Franklin more than Janie. This book, still, is not one of my favorite pieces of African-American literature, but it does have an important place in the literary history of African-American writers. I’m willing to change my rating from 1 star and give this book 3 stars. Maybe in another 14 years, I’ll see this book differently and give it 5 stars (or put it back at 1 star), we’ll see.