reading: Caleb’s Crossing

It makes for a happy, little winter project when you find a writer you like who has a manageable backlog of titles.  This year, I was introduced to Geraldine Brooks’ particular brand of feminist historical fiction when gifted People of the Book this past Christmas.  I finished it with a surprisingly rapid pace, and was struck by Brooks’ imaginative interpretation of the distant past while still maintaining the measured, conservative analysis of ‘what it must have been like’ back then.

The format of People of the Book was all over the place, by design, since the story relates the life of a religious text over the course of 600 years in a handful of countries.  Caleb’s Crossing, however, meditatively focuses on the inner thoughts of one young woman living in colonial Martha’s Vineyard.  Bethia (the main character) is quite progressive for her time, stealing Latin and bible lessons by overhearing her father and brother’s daily discourse while she does her woman’s work.  In this way she also learns Wopanaotaok, the native language of the tribe that already lived on Martha’s Vineyard before it was even called that, and excels at it even over her learned father.  Her grasp of the language opens doors to her that are inherently forbidden for a woman and 17th century Christian.

The relationships of the people set out early in the novel grow and develop throughout its pages which is interesting enough, but what is really fascinating is the portrait Brooks’ paints of a woman during this time who should dare to use her mind, even just a little.  Bethia eventually finds herself working in the buttery (what the heck is that?  Sounds delicious…) at the newly founded Harvard College, stealing lessons once again through the adjoining window from president and professors while she attends to scrubbing pewter tankards with sand and baking bread, which these characters eat endlessly, as if nothing else exists in Puritan Massachusetts which, to be fair, is probably true.

I’m a skeptic, so when I read historical fiction I view the ‘historical’ part of the genre as a guideline the author uses and nothing more — though Brooks has made intensive research on all aspects of her novel. Imbuing historical truths (i.e. a Wampanoag man attending Harvard in the 1600s, which is by all accounts and documents true) can lead to confusion if the reader doesn’t have an active awareness that ‘this didn’t really happen’ but, oh look, ‘this actually did.’  Brooks does an excellent job of clearing up the solid truths, inspirational stories and out-and-out fabrications at the end of the book, which I totally appreciated.

The really positive part of reading historical fiction is that it has made me want to pursue more works of non-fiction on this story, the historical figures mentioned, and what Massachusetts was like 400 years ago.  I lived in Boston for 6 years but couldn’t have given a wharf rat’s ass about history (I actually lived right down the street from Paul Revere’s house, who is a whippersnapper compared to these characters) but Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing has ignited the learning spark.  Thank you!

Next time I find myself at the book store I’m seeking out Year of Wonder which I have been saving for last (I won’t be reading March, since I haven’t read Little Women and really don’t feel like doing so) since plague, disease and trauma are one of my favorite things to read about.  No joke!

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settle down, you freaks

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 10.59.15 AM

from weather.com

Storm’s a comin’ in the Northeast, which typically means we stock up on food we don’t have to cook (in case the power goes!) and if the snow starts early enough I get to stay in my pajamas and watch the world get covered in a big, clean blanket of powdery goodness.  Yes, shovels and scrapers are required at some point, but it’s really no big deal.  I actually chose to live in Maine (the second time I moved here) so the apocalyptic, freak-out headline from weather.com made me wonder whether the copywriter for their site lives in a hammock in Hawaii or in a lean-to in the middle of Death Valley.  Because yes, 2-3 feet of snow and high winds would be ‘crippling’ if you lived in those places.  Up here, it’s just kind of inconvenient.  It should say “big, inconvenient blizzard ahead.”

hardy husband

hardy husband

J. and I have been having a little debate in the wake of all this press hype about public shootings.  I lean towards the idea that violence on television and in movies has a cultural effect on Americans, but he thinks the news is even more to blame, because the news is ‘real’ and movies are stories.  I was a little skeptical, but now that the Weather Channel is getting just as hyperbolic as Fox I’m starting to buy the argument.

p.s.  that picture above is from us trudging through unpacked, 18″ snowfall in jeans around New Year’s… he’s in a shallow part in the photo but it was definitely above our knees in parts.  totally worth it, because we got to see the quiet beaver pond where they’re all living this winter.  also, my grandmother followed us as we blazed the trail so she could show us where everything was… i come from hardy stock!

bird

finch in vt in december

So my plan is to enjoy dinner out, hit the grocery store a little later tonight and then try to locate all the lefts and rights of the gloves/mittens in the house to make sure shoveling isn’t hell tomorrow.  Hopefully all the people who were tricked in to being afraid that this blizzard would ‘cripple’ them don’t clean the shelves out of the crackers, goat cheese and red pepper jelly I’m planning on surviving on until the end-of-days passes and we can get back to business…

little homes everywhere

Today I’ve been making myself at home in familiar places.  Going back to things I know really well often takes the edge off a bit.  If you read back a day you can tell I’m a little on edge.  These certainly helped:

my playlist at work today:

consisted of albums i’ve been listening to for…

greetings-from-timbuk-3-e127358423311125 years…

joni+mitchell+-+ladies+of+the+canyon+-+(front)15 years…

Rabbit Fur Coat…and 5 years.  There’s nothing like knowing all the words from beginning to end to get anchored.

~~

calebs-200x300

I also managed to get to the book store on my lunch break, seeking out another tome from Geraldine Brooks, whose writing I was recently introduced to, I basically love her.  I’m glad I found Caleb’s Crossing as a pre-owned hardcover, because those look cooler on the shelf and I’m nervous about reading the one she wrote about the dad from Little Women since I never read that.  And I feel like I’d need to read Little Women in order to read it.  So I’ll read the one about the plague next… then decide what to do after that.  I know little girls are supposed to love Little Women… but Alcott, Bronte, Austen… all snoozers to me.  Go figure.  Oh yeah!  The used hardcover was $9.97 but the guy at Bull Moose rang me up for just under $7.00.  I guess their used book prices are constantly changing, so in the event that they’re less the cashier can give you the lower price.  If it’s higher?  No sweat, you get what the price tag says.  That’s so awesome!  Buy local.

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cowl

Lastly, one new thing — for Christmas, we got my mother-in-law a pattern for this cowl from Quince & Co., a Maine-based yarn/pattern company, and when she finished it I offered to block it for her at work since we have industrial steamers here.  I found it surprisingly easy with the help of the steamer and this online tutorial that really took the mystery out of blocking for me.  I used to use pins, towels, etc… but I might just throw down $180 one day for a steamer of my own if I really get in to knitting.  I’ve been voracious in the knitting department, practically devouring this blog for the last couple of days.  I love this girl, and I don’t even know her!  I’m working on this dress for Kiley right now, and hope the pattern goes smoothly so I can add my own modifications the next time I make it.  I paid $2 for it a week ago, but it looks like it’s a free download now, so get it while you can!  Totally worth the $2, by the way, but free stuff still rocks.

master of none

photo by derek lobley

photo by derek lobley

Last week our band, Bath Salts, had an awesome show in the basement of this huge house near USM.  I was pretty psyched, because it was the first time I played in front of people when my fingers didn’t feel like they were little shaky sausages (it’s true, that happens).  I’d like to think it’s because we practiced, or that we’ve had a half dozen shows already, or that the basement was filled with really enthusiastic people… but it was probably.. most likely.. the fifth of scotch I’d tucked away in the front pocket of the guitar case before we left.

The whole thing got me thinking about the tremendous amount of extra things I’ve got heaped up on my plate.  If life was a buffet I’d be the dude with the Close-Encounters-of-the-Third-Kind-Potato-Mountain and I wouldn’t stop there.  I’d have mountains of all kinds of food, and keep going back for more.  Ok, metaphor over, since the ‘food’ is actually:  playing in a band, knitting, crafting with bottle caps and photographs, wedding photography, styling, creative photography, blogging, maintaining an etsy shop, maintaining a day job, picking up 5-20 hours a week at a performing arts/community center, promoting shows, experimenting with cooking, etc.

It all sounds pretty enriching when it’s right there in black and white, but the day to day manifestation of it is pretty hectic.  Being a jack of all trades and a master of none can be challenging and exciting, but it can also split your head open and leave a lady really unfulfilled at the end of the day.  I know a lot of crafters, artists and musicians who are like me and can’t seem to stop glomming on to this project or that.  It’s awesome.  The alternative is boring.  But at some point you gotta know when your plate is about to buckle under the weight of all those food mountains.  (Metaphor’s back!)

Lately, the balance has been off.  When I finally get to do the thing I’ve been thinking about all day at work (knitting, finishing up a bottle cap order, going to photograph a rock show… and on and on) I’m not excited.  Sometimes I’m even a little resentful at first, even though I always end up enjoying myself.  What gives?  It could be the inevitable motivation drain we here in the North East experience most every Feb/March.  It could be that I have little time to just be with friends without having to be doing something else at the same time.  Ultimately, it could be that by casting the net wide I’m not actually doing my best at anything and not succeeding as well as I should in any of those things.

All of this is fine when I breathe my way through it.  Fact of the matter is, I feel like I’m a good knitter, a unique photographer, a competent worker, and a ..er.. dedicated musician.  But it’s when I start to think of the list of all the things I’ve got to do, would like to do, am supposed to do, that I get this feeling of being trapped in my skin.  Maybe not quite as big as an anxiety attack, but on its way.

What is all this about, anyways?  Maybe I realized it in my sleep, I’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately… or I could have known it all along.  Or more likely it’s that I’ve been reading the lives of contemporaries, via perfectly edited blogs made to look like all of life is the moment food is brought to the table, or when children’s hair catches the light just so, or the last stitch on a month-long project.  And then I look around the living room and there are three unfinished knitting projects draped over the back of the sofa, the coffee table is covered in unwashed tea mugs and cocktail glasses, and the cat, the older one, is hiding in the closet with about half of her fur missing off her back and underside.

This is probably a weird, frustrated extension of my new year’s resolution to simplify.  I think the end result of this diatribe will be to a) more accurately reflect real life as opposed to idealized in this webspace and b) pick one thing (or two or three?) to put on the shelf so my world isn’t so fuzzy and wild.

thanks for listening..