No, we aren’t going anywhere fun or doing anything exciting together. Darn. But, it’s almost that good, at least to our ranch community: we have a closing date for the Ross house in Cameron! Next week can’t come too soon!
When I got the message from the title company that it was a go, I wanted to reach out through the internet and hug Kim, but that’s not appropriate right now. We are being asked to do an in-person closing, which makes me a bit uncomfortable, but we can wear masks and hope they have a big table!
Now that we have the date, we can make our nebulous plans for the house more concrete. While Felix was here yesterday, he figured out a way to have multiple systems, so parts of the house that aren’t in use can be closed off and only heated or cooled enough to prevent mold or frost. That will help a lot.
Now I am going to get moving and learn as much about the house and it’s previous owners as possible (the Lesters, the Mondricks, others). I’ll be talking to a lot of people I know in Cameron and looking up information on the history of the place. All those documents in the attic will be very helpful, and perhaps the historical museum will want some of them, too. I’d hesitated to mess around with them until I was sure we’d be getting the house. And I hope we are able to save and restore some of the beautiful photographs to use in the main parlor area.
So far, I’ve figured out that Ross Avenue is named after former governor, Sul Ross, who was born in the first house in Cameron, where the pavilion is now. I better get started talking to people.
This is a different type of book review. For one thing, you can’t buy the book anywhere; I was lucky enough to receive a copy from the author.
You see, Unintended Consequences, by F. Douglas Martin, is a collection of stories of the life of one of my friends from my old church. He had been sharing stories from his life on Facebook for months, and I found myself eagerly anticipating each new post from Doug. I just loved the cast of characters who went through his life, the stories of his upbringing, and tales from his fascinating career working with fish around the world. Yep. Fish. It’s fascinating, and not just to other scientists or amateur naturalists!
Apparently, I was not the only one who loved his tales, so his friends and family finally convinced him to put the stories together in a book. His wife, Mary Hengstebeck, took on the task of compiling the MANY stories, putting them in some kind of order, and adding photographs and clip-art illustrations for each story. That was some kind of job!
Sure, the book’s obviously self published, and because it’s a collection of separate stories, there’s some repetition, but that doesn’t detract from the joy of reading the tales of the amazing stuff Doug got away with doing as a child, the hilarious folks he worked with in his life, and the love story between him and Mary.
It’s just the story of a normal person’s life, but I love it. I’m still reading it, but since I read the original stories, I feel competent to say the whole book is a pleasure, and a wonderful distraction from the news of the world right now.
What This Means for YOU
Doug is just a well-educated guy who tells good stories, not a famous celebrity or politician. Still, his memoirs are a joy to read. In the past couple of days, I’ve tried to convince a couple of my friends who have led interesting lives that their stories deserve to be preserved and shared.
Both said that no one would care about their stories. Well, Doug probably thought his wife and children would be the only ones who would read his. Really, sharing the stories of our lives is valuable. Future historians will be happy to find details about how people actually lived in the 20th and 21st centuries, and family, friends, and interested others WILL like reading it, especially if you can write well and have lots of interesting photos.
I know LOTS of people who fit this category. Maybe YOU are one. And even if you aren’t the greatest writer on earth, you probably know someone who can review your writing and clean it up a bit. Honest. I want to read your story.
Yeesh. Thing number one is that I am acutely aware that the deaths of black people at the hands of law enforcement is not all about me and my problems with it. So skip that lecture; I already read it here. I want to say I’m not interested in hearing how my reactions to world events are wrong, or that I don’t have a right to react because of my race, socio-economic background, or perceived intellectual status. I get to react how I react. I get to test my bravery, even if I screw up. I get to be upset.
But I do want to butt out of other people’s issues. I’m all for letting the people most directly affected direct their responses, whether individual or as a group. If I’m needed, I’ll step up, but since I am reading over and over again that I’m not needed, I will stand by and do other stuff. What other stuff? Well, here’s a really long list:
And I am going to point out racism, anti-free speech, and non-factual content when it’s in my face. No, I’m not gonna go troll everyone I know and shower them with my thoughts. That’s not gonna work, and I know it. But I might answer back if you troll me with your anti-liberal assertions.
It’s a hard line, which is why I gave the title I did to this post. I just have to accept that some people will damn me for not taking enough action or being silent, while others will damn me for speaking out in ways they don’t approve of. I will be taken to task for not responding to accusations or inaccuracies, then told I should just block and ignore anyone I disagree with. This is true for a lot of us right not.
But, I want to hear what people have to say. All of them, not just the ones like me. I can’t figure out how to listen to my more radical and more conservative associates and not talk back. My mom would laugh. I always talked back.
Luckily I spent a lot of yesterday reading Lion’s Roar, the Buddhist magazine. It reminded me that life happens, it doesn’t happen to me. And that life is hard, but that’s how you learn. It reminded me of the virtues of silent observation.
That’s the Lesson for Today
I have, at least, figured out why I feel uncomfortable (in addition to the obvious other reasons). I’m used to being a participant, going out and doing stuff, and raising my voice to work for a better world. Right now I need to be more quiet. You know, like so many people of color have to be, in order to keep from being noticed and targeted.
I gobbled up this novel, which I found via my usual method of discovering books, an interview on NPR (National Public Radio in the US). I figure anything Scott Simon likes, I’ll like. I encourage you to read or listen to the interview about A Hundred Suns, with the author, Karin Tanabe.
Tanabe is known for writing historical novels, and this one’s about Vietnam before it was Vietnam, in the 1930s when it was still French Indochina. It’s a period and place I’m interested in and wanted to learn more about, so why not learn history through a novel (it’s how I learned when I was young; those novels about Queen Elizabeth I sure were more interesting than history books, even if they weren’t 100% accurate; after all, neither are history books).
There is so much to like about the book, and I especially liked how each and every character in the book (French people, Americans, and Annamites (what Vietnamese people were called then)) had a fully developed personality. Like real people, each of them had admirable aspects and made plenty of mistakes. Each had prejudices but learned not to be so confident. You end up empathizing with each major character, even though they do some pretty icky things.
Tanabe, of course, weaves a lot of history into the narrative. You get to see the country from the eyes of the French colonists (ooh, la la, they were fancy), local people who tried to assimilate into French society, wealthy communist sympathizers, grass-roots communists, and of course, random mercenaries. I found it easier to understand the Vietnamese point of view on communism from this book than I did in books I read when I was younger, which all took the capitalist viewpoint exclusively (one character in the book was like me, neither colonial nor communist nor really capitalist…just wanting the best for everyone).
One thing I really liked about the book is how Tanabe portrays relationships between people of different cultures and races. As someone who’s enjoyed being close to Asians in the past and remembers how people STILL looked askance at it in the 1980s, I appreciated how the relationship between the characters Marcelle and Khoi in the 1930s was depicted. I’m so glad that people are much freer to love whoever they want to now.
I actually liked how she portrayed all relationships. She made arranged marriages make more sense, yet showed that both friendship and true love that can grow and change as people mature, as well. Here’s my favorite quote, from Khoi, the rich and handsome silk merchant, talking about two friends:
“We are not perfect people, you and I,” he said, “No one is. Even Anne-Marie and Sinh. I know we hold him up on a pedestal now, but he wasn’t perfect. We all have moments of weakness, of strength, of stupidity. But if we’re lucky, we’ll have even more moments of love.”
A Hundred Suns, page 340.
There were a couple of things that bugged me about the writing style of Tanabe. Sometimes she gets a little didactic and seems to be giving a history lesson rather than letting it come out through the characters. But, there IS a lot of historical context about rubber plantations and such to get through.
And she has a writing style that sometimes bothers me, where at the end of any utterance she inserts some bit of physical description of the character’s eyes, or skin, or something. I have no idea why that style annoys me, but it always seems like the author couldn’t find any other way to add these details, so they get stuck into the dialogue. And I always wonder if whether someone’s skin is tanned or not matters to the story (in this case, I’ll assume the main character’s deepening tan symbolizes her growing understanding of the Asian culture she finds herself immersed in).
Shoot, I’ve totally forgotten to say what the book’s plot has to do with. You see, there’s a nice social-climbing American woman named Jessie who gets her wealthy family sent to Indochine to escape her past. They are a part of the Michelin family, and the husband wanted to do more with tires and rubber and less with writing tour guides. Jessie meets up with locals, both French and Annamite, deals with her servants (fascinating in their own right), travels through the country, and gets drawn into intrigue as she begins to doubt her sanity. Mayhem ensues.
Wow, can I summarize a book, or what? Anyway, I’d say A Hundred Suns is worth getting a hold of. It will take your mind off the present, and you’ll get to meet a lot of fascinating people in an interesting historical context. You might as well learn something!
Aha! I’ve been so busy dealing with the state of the world and the state of my job that I forgot to look at the calendar to see that I totally missed our “blog-a-versary” on April 11! While I’ve been blogging a LONG time, off and on, it’s just TWO YEARS for The Hermits’ Rest blog.
While I’ve not become a super influencer or celebrity blogger, I’ve enjoyed creating a community of frequent readers and have enjoyed getting to know some fellow WordPress bloggers, which has been a surprising benefit. Enjoy some stats:
We’re coming up on 27,000 hits in the past two years. Not a lot, but not bad.
According to the stats in the sidebar, 933 people follow the blog. I did not believe that until I finally figured out where all those people came from, which is social media. I figured out that Social is a combination of my Facebook and Twitter followers. Ah.
I saw a little blurb in This Old House magazine, saying this new book is a “must-read” for anyone restoring an old house. Why, I’m renovating an old house, which is close. So, I ordered two copies, one for me and one for Kathleen, of Restoring Your Historic House: The Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners, by Scott Hanson (2019). At 720 pages, it has a good chance of being comprehensive, anyway!
This post will have two parts, one in which I review the book, and the other in which I talk about the choices we have made on the Pope house that do or don’t follow Hanson’s recommendations.
Another book finished, and I’m impressed that I got this one done in less than a week, since I’m also trying to knit some every day now. I bought Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell, because I really wanted some insight into how to communicate with people from different communities, cultures, social groups, etc.
It turns out that the famous Mr. Gladwell (he wrote Blink, a book I didn’t like much at the time it came out) wasn’t exactly writing about what I thought he would, but I found the direction he took pretty interesting, anyway.
The question he really seemed to be asking was more like why do we let assumptions about other people, based on appearance, blind us to their real motives or intentions? He talks about cases we are all familiar with, like Bernie Madoff, who fooled all kinds of rich people into believing his really ridiculous Ponzi schemes and the pedophilia scandal at Penn State University, where Jerry Sandusky’s purported actions were dismissed until everything blew up and all sorts of people lost their jobs.
Spoiler alert: Gladwell says all of the misinterpretations of others’ motivations boils down to two main things: one is that we all assume that people we don’t know are telling us the truth. It takes lots and lots of evidence that something’s amiss to change that assumption. So, good ole Bernie M. was such a nice guy and friends of so many smart people, of course he was telling the truth! Gladwell points out that the assumption of truth is actually a good thing almost all the time. It certainly would slow down social interactions if you questioned everything anyone said to you, right? That lets skilled liars, or even unskilled liars, as he shares with a story about a Cuban spy in the CIA, keep doing what they’re doing.
The second thing that makes knowing what a stranger is really up to hard is the assumption of transparency. This means how we expect that we can read people’s motivations from their appearance. As long as people act like our cultural norms predict they should in a situation, it goes well. This refers to looking afraid when you are scared or acting solemn when someone dies (Amanda Knox in an Italian murder case didn’t act sad enough when her roommate died, but really she was just socially awkward, not a killer). People who, like Knox, don’t telegraph their internal states can get away with lying or not be believed when they are telling the truth. In the end, that is one thing that caused that poor Sandra Bland woman to end up dead in a jail cell: she acted nervous when a police officer pulled her over and didn’t grovel properly, in his mind.
The other part of Talking to Strangers that I enjoyed a lot was a discussion of the concept of “coupling,” where Gladwell makes a strong case that inexplicable things you do are tied strongly to location and opportunity. Sylvia Plath’s suicide happened because gas ovens in England still had carbon monoxide in them. If she had tried to do it a year or two later, they’d have switched to natural gas, and she would have just gotten a headache. Another poet, Anne Sexton, killed herself by locking herself in the garage and turning her car on. This was just a short time before catalytic converters showed up in American cars, so this method wouldn’t work. Um, did you know that the profession most likely to commit suicide is poets?
The point is, though, people think that if your chosen method won’t work, you go try another method, but the research on coupling has shown that isn’t true. When nets were put on the Golden Gate Bridge, people didn’t march off to another bridge to jump off. The motivation is tied to the place.
I haven’t explained that well. The section on coupling is the main reason I encourage people to read Talking to Strangers. I kept reading sentences aloud to Anita, because I was learning so much. The section about “pockets of crime” blew me away.
Now that I write this all down, it’s clear that Gladwell made a big impression on me with his viewpoints and the research that backs them up. It’s fun that he weaves recent events (and Hitler) into the analysis, because you always want to know how the heck these implausible events actually go down the way they do (why did Neville Chamberlain like and believe the words of Hitler?). I have a new perspective on why people just don’t “get” each other so often. Learning is good!
Sadly, I still don’t think I’m any better about talking to strangers. I think I’m even more cautious about it than I was before. Maybe that’s a good thing. Assumptions about other people tend to bite you in the…butt.
Yeah, so I said I wouldn’t be posting about goals for the year, but I didn’t say I wouldn’t pause to reflect a bit. I finally have a few minutes to actually do that, so I’m going to answer some questions originally shared by my friend (and brilliant writer) Teresa Pitman. I will also add some cheerful flower photos to prove it’s still colorful, at least among the tiny flowers outside our former church building!
What made 2019 unforgettable for you?
The most unforgettable thing is that other than one sentence when we ran into each other in the summer, my older son didn’t speak to me in 2019. I’m still at a loss about what the reason is, but I’ll never forget 2019 for that very unexpected turn of events. I honestly thought we had a good relationship and could discuss any issues that came up. It’s a mother’s nightmare, but dwelling on it and going through possible scenarios won’t help. I’ll keep waiting and sending love.
What did you most enjoy doing in 2019?
There’s no one answer to this one! I crammed a lot of good stuff into the year. Here are some of my favorite things:
Proud of myself, I am, for finishing the latest book in the neighborhood book club series, especially since this is not something I would have picked out for myself. But, the assignment was Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow, so I read it!
As someone interested in history, I did enjoy all the historical references and real people who came and went throughout the book, some of whom happened to be favorites of mine (like Emma Goldman, the anarchist). I think it helps to have some clue as to what was going on around the beginning of the twentieth century, though I guess you learn a lot even without any helpful background knowledge. This great review by the late John Brooks said it really well:
This mixture of fact and fiction may confuse or mislead the unwary or historically uninformed reader, and it suggests a projection onto the past of the suspect techniques of the New Journalism. I, for one, although no friend of that aberration, am willing to forgive any historical novelist who makes his flights from historical fact as funny and pertinent as Doctorow makes his. Like Houdini’s audiences, I am made to enjoy being fooled. As to the topical descriptions, they appear to be accurate enough to satisfy an exacting student of Americana. Certainly they are alive enough never to smell the research in old newspaper files that they must have required.
John Brooks: From the Archives: A review of E.L. Doctorow’s ‘Ragtime’, Chicago Tribune, March 05, 2015 (Suna’s birthday)
Now, as much as I enjoyed getting to know some fun details about historical figures, especially the imagined inner thoughts of Harry Houdini, the ground-breaking way the book was written seemed a little contrived and sometimes annoying. Here’s how John Brooks (a man of many more words than Suna) put it: