A Year of Reading: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”
— Max de Pree
I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.
February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance.
March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.
Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.
Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.
What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.
A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.
Overview from Goodreads:
In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary.
I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies.
Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).
This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:
“A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.”
― Joy Harjo, Crazy Brave
I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.
It really should be read aloud.
Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre?
What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend?
Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books I’m Excited to Read This Summer
I’ve been a total bibliophile lately, or what some might call a bibliomaniac. Thanks to The Amusing Muse for crowning me with that literary title! Ever since, I’ve been singing “I’m a maniac, maaaaniac on the floor! And I’m reading books like never before!”
Today is another round of Top Ten Tuesday, the weekly themed book list hosted by the peeps over at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s theme is a freebie, so I’m creating my list of must reads for the summer.
I’ve read 7 out of 10 books on my spring ‘to be read’ list which isn’t bad in less than 3 months time. My favorite thus far has to be Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova. Fans of magical realism and mythology will love this one. I’m also super excited to let you all know that Krassi will be joining us on The Happiness Project in the near future, so stay tuned! She’s amazing! And I saw her doppelganger the other day outside a coffee shop and almost chased her down. (I didn’t. But only because a friend stopped me.) I’m very pleased to welcome the real Krassi Zourkova here soon.
I’m halfway through my To Be Read Pile Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. I need to write two updates yet though. Oops. How are you all doing on your must read lists?
Time to get reading!
Top 10 Books I’m Excited to Read This Summer
1. Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless by Susan Jane Gilman
I’m back on my humorous memoir kick. I’m devouring any women writers I can find and I picked this one up recently at an indie bookstore. Can’t beat “a funny and poignant collection of true stories about women coming of age that for once isn’t about finding a date.”
2. Dietland by Sarai Walker
The feminist in me can’t wait to pick up a copy of Dietland. The premise is a young woman dealing with body shame who gets entwined with a radical female group called the “Jennifers” that terrorizes mainstream society and its social constructs for women. Yes please, I need to know more.
3. Listen to Your Mother by Ann Imig
A collection of essays based off the critically acclaimed stage performances, Listen to Your Mother encompasses tales of all aspects of motherhood. I can’t wait to read the ups and downs and learning lessons inside as well as support several friends who have participated on stage!
4. I Don’t Care About Your Band: Lessons Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I’ve Dated by Julie Klausner
I can’t help it. I married a musician. This title makes me laugh.
(Note* I DO in fact care about my husband’s band, but I don’t get to as many shows as he’d like, so no doubt he thinks this is true.)
5. Looking for Alaska by John Green
I’ve started reading this one and fans of Catcher in the Rye and Rule of the Bone will like it. Miles “Pudge” Halter is off to boarding school. He meets the illusive and mesmerizing Alaska Young and becomes entranced. His life is about to change.
6. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This title is on everyone’s ‘to read’ list, and I’m joining the bandwagon. Set in the Great Lakes region, Station Eleven is the tale of a misfit troupe of actors traveling the countryside and performing in ramshackle towns. Disease has wiped out much of the population, and many are living a nomadic life. How does art survive here?
7. Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of) by Elaine Lui
You gotta love a mother who starts the conversation with “Where’s my money?” Based on parts of her blog, Elaine Lui elaborates on her mother-daughter relationship with her mom, known as “The Squawking Chicken.”
8. Don’t Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Kids by Leanne Shirtliffe
Author and blogger of Ironic Mom, I’ve had Leanne’s book on my to read pile for awhile. I also purchased her children’s book, The Change Your Name Store, for my niece this year. It is delightful and I can’t wait to dive into her memoir about her time raising twins as an expat and more!
9. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
As a fan of Bossypants by Tina Fey, I needed to pick up her partner in crime’s equally hilarious book. From her early school days of playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to how she upped her improv game, Amy dishes it out and talks about her new motto, “Yes, please!”
10. Is My Crazy Showing? by Leigh Baker
Surviving a mental breakdown and stint in a hospital, Leigh Baker shares the tumultuous journey of finding one’s way and creating your own family. Shout out to Beth Teliho for recommending this one to me!
What’s on your summer must read list? I’m always willing to make it a Top Twenty! 😉
Bologna Girl Learns to Cook
My bloggy friend, Madge, more commonly known as author Margaret Reyes Dempsey over at her blog, couldn’t believe that a girl who solved her problems with bologna sandwiches came from a family who owned a restaurant! So, I’m here today to state the facts.
Fact #1. Yes, I had a moment of weakness where I ate a bologna sandwich and drank Chardonnay after a bad day. My only fault was blogging about it (with picture evidence, no less) because now I’ll never live it down.
Fact #2. My family owned a Steak House for 16 years. I thought the place was my free-for-all and walked around like I owned the joint, grabbing grape soda from the bar fridge and hoarding plates of my dad’s AMAZING homemade cheese spread. I was in a sense, raised by a group of cooks and waitresses who let me help make cole slaw. In fact, the waitresses at our restaurant were actually the ones that named me! I’m not sure if that’s a charming trait, or a reality check that my mother was about to have kid #4 and just didn’t care anymore. (Just kidding, mom, I know you love me!)
Fact #3. My parents have two cooking styles. My mom (apart from salads and desserts) basically made the same meals for dinner on some kind of rotation. Baked chicken, meatloaf, chow mein, CHILI MAC (my fav.), and my least favorite, goulash. Who would like something named goulash? It tastes like it sounds. 😛 My dad, on the other hand, will make a variety of dishes, but he’ll also make them for 50+ people. After graduation, my dad enlisted in the Navy, and was the cook on ship during his service. Add that to years of restaurant managing, and you have a man who inevitably will buy one chicken and make you chicken, yes, but also chicken soup and chicken salad and chicken and rice and chicken tiramisu! Ok, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. How was I, the youngest, supposed to learn to cook in a house with a mother whose idea of taco salad was crumbling doritos on lettuce or a father who never measured a thing and made quantities for storage in a bomb shelter?
Fact #4. In college, I survived on pasta and frozen vegetables. My initial attempts at cooking were described as “palatable” and “finger food” by parties subjected to taste testing. I think back on my attempts to make my own coconut milk as creative! And so what if I was terrible at following directions and charred many a batch of cookies! It was the effort that counts, right?
Fact #5. I eventually learned to cook. I chalk it up to the wonderful gift of Simple and Delicious Magazine my mother gave me after graduation. Simple and delicious, you say? That’s my kind of meal! So get ready folks, I’m sharing with you two amazing recipes that will make dinner feel like summer’s finally here! These dishes were so scrumptious, even as leftovers! My honey and I really enjoyed them. Both were so flavorful, the burgers had a great little kick to them, and this potato salad was the best potato salad I’ve ever eaten!
Chipotle Sliders from Shawn Singleton in Vidor, Texas
Prep time: 30 min. Yield 10 sliders
1 pkg. (12 oz.) Hawaiian sweet rolls
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
8 tsp minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, divided
1-1/2 lbs ground beef
10 slices pepper Jack cheese
1/2 cup mayo
Place 2 rolls in a food processor; process until crumbly. Transfer to a large bowl; add the salt, pepper, and 6 tsp chipotle peppers. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well. Shape into 10 patties.
Grill burgers, covered, over medium heat for 3-4 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer reads 160° and juices run clear. Top with cheese. Grill 1 minute longer or until cheese is melted.
Split remaining rolls and grill, cut side down, over medium heat for 30-60 seconds or until toasted. Combine mayonnaise and remaining chipotle peppers; spread over roll bottoms. Top each with a burger. Replace roll tops.
Golden Potato Salad by Linda Behrman in North Merrick, New York
Prep: 25 minutes Cook: 15 min + cooling Yield: 10 servings
2-1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1 small red onion
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 cup mayo
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp spicy brown mustard
1 Tbsp mustard seed
3 tsp snipped, fresh dill (I used dried)
1-1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Drain; cool for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the red pepper, onion, carrot and potatoes.
In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, oil, vinegar, mustard, mustard seed, 2 tsp dill, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over potato mixture; gently toss to coat. Sprinkle with remaining dill. Refrigerate until serving.
Are your taste buds watering? What yummy dishes have you made to kick off summer? Who taught you to cook? Have you ever tried to make your own coconut milk? It’s hard, isn’t it?
Sink or Swim, Why Drowning Could Improve Your Writing
I’ve been reading more of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Her book is positively moving. Growing up in a home with an alcoholic father and unruly mother, Walls captures the spirit of childhood and adventure. I’m continually amazed with how candid she writes and the amazing imagery to all the senses. Recently a passage about her experience learning to swim struck a chord with me:
“Dad picked me up and heaved me back into the middle of the Hot Pot. ‘Sink or Swim!’ he called out. For the second time, I sank. The water once more filled my nose and lungs. I kicked and flailed and thrashed my way to the surface, gasping for air, and reached out to Dad. But he pulled back, and I didn’t feel his hands around me until I’d sunk one more time.
He did it again and again, until the realization that he was rescuing me only to throw me back into the water took hold, and so, rather than reaching for Dad’s hands, I tried to get away from them. I kicked at him and pushed away through the water with my arms, and finally, I was able to propel myself beyond his grasp.
‘You’re doing it, baby!’ Dad shouted. ‘You’re swimming!’
I staggered out of the water and sat on the calcified rocks, my chest heaving. Dad came out of the water, too, and tried to hug me, but I wouldn’t have anything to do with him, or with Mom, who’d been floating on her back as if nothing were happening, or with Brian and Lori, who gathered around and were congratulating me. Dad kept telling me that he loved me, that he never would have let me drown, but you can’t cling to the side your whole life, that one lesson every parent needs to teach a child is ‘If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim.’ What other reason, he asked, would possibly make him do this?
Once I got my breath back, I figured he must be right. There was no other way to explain it.”
Right here, in this passage, I feel a kinship to the author. Just here. I can’t say, and am fortunate to not have to, that my childhood was full of stories like Walls. I wasn’t cooking my own food at age 3, I was never thrown from a moving vehicle rolling across a train track, I have never slept in a cardboard box, or had to pack up and move everything in the middle of the night. I am grateful for that. I know I am privileged coming from the working family I grew up in. But that notion, “Sink or Swim,” now that I remember.
That is exactly how my dad said he and all his brothers learned how to swim. And I can recall, with vivid fear, being tossed into the pool and flopping in the water until I could paddle my way to the edge and get the burning out of my nose and throat. Once, my duck shaped waist floaty escaped my grasp while I was on the ladder and I jumped to grab it, missed, and sank right to the bottom. Thank god my brother was there and dove in to rescue me. Eventually, my mom insisted on signing me up for swim lessons. I went one summer for like 2 or 3 weeks. We practiced blowing bubbles underwater, but I don’t recall learning to swim. Honestly, I think I just finally figured it out. I stayed in shallow waters long enough to learn how to tread on my own and just get by. Still, water isn’t my favorite element to be in. I like air. I’ll jump out of a plane no problem, in fact I have! But water still makes me a little nervous sometimes.
Then there was learning to ride a bike. My dad also refused to put training wheels on. We had them, he just refused to put them on. Endless trips around the block involving me crashing into trees. I had a record at school for number of bloody lips and bruises! My siblings tried to help me out once by putting the training wheels on for me. They had just tightened up the screws and told me to hop on. I jumped on the bike, and started pedaling expectantly. Nothing happened. The training wheels didn’t work right and my bike became a stationary bike, good only for short term moderate exercise complete with unicorn banana seat and streamers on the handlebars. I’ll admit a secret to you. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until 5th grade. Go ahead, laugh, it’s embarrassing! My sister, bless her heart, finally took the patience to spend all afternoon in a parking lot with me doing wavy circles. I was getting the hang of it and feeling pretty confident so I looked across the street and yelled “Dad, look at me!” As I was waving, and he was looking up, I biffed it in some sand and gravel and wiped out with the bike falling on top of me.
The point? You’ve got to work at it. In life. In swimming “lessons” and in bike riding lessons and in writing. I’ll admit I can be a slow learner when something scares me, hell, I’ve been known to occasionally still crash into people’s houses while on a bike. But, I’ve persevered. And I’ve overcome embarrassing setbacks and social timelines that prevented me from achieving my goals. And right now, I’m starting all over again, with writing. And let me tell you folks, I’ll win this bloody lip contest too!
What about you? What scares you? What have you survived and learned from?
What’s a Little Blood in the Name of Sibling
It’s evident I’m the youngest, isn’t it? A bit self-absorbed, over-imaginative, still wants presents from her parents. But I’m also a bit of an oops baby, a party crasher if you will. There my parents were, living out the American Dream, happily running their own restaurant, raising three children, forming friendships that would last them a lifetime. And then yours truly showed up, rolling to the party during a Friday Night Fish Fry. Of course my parents will tell you I was a surprise, and for my siblings who range 7-13 years older, I was a live doll to
torture play with. Here’s the thing, they started out by including me, they let me play games, use their toys, eat candy, and entertain them with talented impressions of Steve Urkel from Family Matters.
But then, we started playing new kinds of games, games called “Experiments.” We learned what would happen when your teenage sister asks you to close your eyes and hold out your hand. A cascade of clacking noises follow and little hard lumps topple into your hand. It could be candy, you think with anticipation. It’s not. It’s your teenage sister’s collection of baby teeth. That’s right, she dumped her teeth in your hand. “Why do you have these?” you scream, your face contorted in horror. There is no reply, she is laughing too hard.
Gross, but harmless fun, right? Well, that was before my brother got a microscope for christmas. This time when you’re asked to help “experiment” they tell you to hold up your index finger. They proceed to wrap a rubber band around and around and around the tip of your finger. They wait while your finger changes from its healthy, fleshy pink coloring to a purple blue bulging nub. Then, they do the inevitable, they tell you to close your eyes again. You should run, you should know this means trouble, you should call for help, but they’re so much cooler than you are, they can ride bikes and pick out their own clothes, and most important of all, they’re family, they wouldn’t hurt you. “Owwwwww!” Turns out they can hurt you. In fact, your siblings stabbed you. They wanted to know what blood looked like under the microscope.
This is why I played alone. And why my favorite game was called Orphan. And it’s another example of why I’m convinced I have multiple lives. But the truth is, I love my siblings. I love them for helping make me a stubborn, and overly imaginative child. If I’d have had a harmonious childhood, I’d have had nothing to write about. And really, what’s a little blood in the name of sibling?
How about you readers? Were you the mad scientist in the household, or the Frankenstein freak being tested on? I’m thinking about starting a club someday, TITHAFYS, Teeth in the Hand Alliance For Youngest Siblings, I’ll be needing a strong leadership team, put your nominations in for VP, treasurer, and secretary. Happy writing!
Silent Protests Against My Mother
Ever wonder why your parents made some of the decisions they did? No, you cannot take the turtle into bed with you! No, you may not watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall with your brother! No, you may not eat double stuff oreos, and I don’t care if Liz’s mom lets her!
My mom is a great mom. She writes in perfect cursive penmanship, has impeccable spelling, pays attention to detail, writes long letters and mails them with real stamps and envelopes and everything. She likes to sing, read mystery books, bake a variety of coffee cakes, and spy out the windows.
But I have one bone to pick with my mother. Throughout my childhood, on countless trips to the grocery store, she would never let me get double stuff oreos! This woman who rarely enforced rules about vegetables, or clean plate clubs, who married a baker, son of a woman who enforced dessert before dinner, wouldn’t let me eat double stuff oreos! Hell, I had coca cola in my sippy cups!!! (That may be why I stopped growing in eighth grade.)
This anti-oreo rule never made sense to me. I was a child who liked milk. I had contests with my father over who could drink their milk the fastest at dinner. I don’t know if you’re aware, but milk and oreos are like made for each other, best friends forever, kindred spirits from the galactic orbs of destined to be together soulmates! I bet if you eat an oreo without milk, your heart shrinks a little.
I reiterate my mother’s inconsistent lessons about the value of a nutritional diet; my mother had her days where cooking was not placed on the top of the list, in fact it was scribbled out and snipped straightly off the bottom of the notepad. Those days were called Sundays, or any other day one of her favorite TV shows was on. On these days we ate popcorn for dinner. Popcorn and slices of cheddar cheese. Maybe, maybe I’d have to eat like 4 slices of an apple. I never complained. I loved popcorn nights! Those of you who know me can attest I have an affinity for airy, crunchy snacks at mealtime.
As the years passed, I grew older, she refused to buy double stuff oreos. When I first moved out and began to buy my own groceries, I followed her approach in mastering the marketplace. Simply put, take your sweet time going up and down every aisle. You can make a list, sure, but it’s fun to add to it with new items that sound exotic and delectable like bagel chips. Is it more bagel or more chip, I don’t know, but their deliciousness drives me mad!
On one such shopping trip, I happened down the cookie aisle and low and behold on the very end, right at eye level, was that familiar looking Nabisco symbol in the corner of the shiny blue packaging. I picked up the package, looked side to side to see if anyone was watching, looked up to see if lightening bolts were crashing down and it appeared…no one gave a damn. So I put them in my cart. But as I wheeled around the aisle to the checkout, I couldn’t help but smirk. Take that, Mom!
What are the ridiculous rules your parents enforced? Did you ever protest? Did your rebellion taste as sweet and chocolately as mine?
Girl Gets Butt Kicked, Remedies with Sandwich
Hello Readers, and welcome to the Happiness Project. It’s been a particularly stressful day following a particularly stressful week involving closing my credit card because it was stolen and used fraudulently, driving sales day in and day out only to be pushed back in the negative sales plan by a blizzard preventing business, state budget protests, financial concerns, and zero time to write creatively or even read more than a few pages before falling asleep with the little LED booklight poking me in the eye.
But, Jess, you say, we come to you to provide us with the ever-positive, try again and try harder, funny outlook from a new writer! All together now…”We shall overcome, we shall overcome…”
Right, right, we’ll kumbaya later. So what is it that’s getting me through the end of the day this time? A bologna sandwich and chardonnay.
Time to make a manageable list, and I emphasize manageable. Flashback to the store today, I think I spoke into the radio system something like: “Jess to Leadership Team, I’m stepping off the floor for a few minutes. I just need to
cry in a stockroom update the scoreboards.”
Pity party check in: Me. Check! Junk food. Check! (I admit half a can of Pringles was downed before I made the sandwich.) Looming deadline for two writing contests I’ve sworn to enter. CHECK! To Do List? *rifles through some wine glass coaster papers, smooths out wrinkled edges*
- Quit whining.
- Take a sip.
- Take time to journal 5 things to be grateful for today.
- Get the bottle out of the fridge, swig! No one’s watchin’.
- Finish reading Pope Joan, 60 pages to go, and one upcoming book review from yours truly.
- Designate time in your week’s schedule for writing devoted time to work on entry submissions.
- Freewrite a new section of your story-in-progress. Deadline: Saturday.
- Send out love, support, and kudos to your fellow writers!
How do you deal with meltdowns? What sparks the creative juices in you when your life’s got you down? What are your current happiness projects this week?
P.S. Did I ever mention every Tuesday night is band practice at my house? I find it strangely ironic that they’re learning Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” while I write about my crumbling grip on sanity. You know what they say, you can’t make up real life. Happy writing!