"All he'd ever wanted was for nothing to ever change."

 
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I'm not a baseball fan.  I'm not opposed to baseball as a sport, and I take in a game or two each season.  But I'm not a diehard fan.  I don't pretend to understand the subtleties of the sport.  So when I began reading The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach I was a bit nonplussed that my husband had given it to me as a Valentine's day gift.  I was reading and thinking "he bought this book because he wants to read it.  I hate it when he does that."  But then I got into the bit about Moby Dick and being the literary fan I am, I was hooked. Baseball has been used as a metaphor for life lessons, probably since its birth.  And Harbach's spin on it does not disappoint.  The way he used the game engaged me.  Maybe it was the combination of baseball and literature weaving in and out of one another....a respectable challenge for a writer to take on, I have  to admit.  But damn, my husband was right.  I loved the book.

So here's my takeaway.  I have to set it up a bit.  The main character of the book, Henry, is recruited by a member of the baseball team of a small  midwestern college, Schwartzy.  Schwartzy recognized Henry's unique grace and skill as a short stop and made it his mission to coach him into getting a spot on the team and a full-ride scholarship.  With some great story telling and very likeable characters, Harbach made me love Henry champion him, root for him.  As Henry struggled with the opportunities his talent brought to him, Harbach gives him this great little monologue.

"All he'd ever wanted was for nothing to ever change.  Or for things to change only in the right ways, improving little by little, day by day, forever.  It sounded crazy when you said it like that, but that was what baseball had promised him, what Westish College had promised him, what Schwartzy had promised him.  The dream of every day the same.  Every day was like the day before but a little better.  You ran the stadium a little faster.  You bench-pressed a little more.  You hit the ball a little harder in the cage; you watched the tape with Schwartzy afterward and gained a little insight into your swing.  Your swing grew a little simpler.  Everything grew simpler, little by little.  You ate the same food, woke up at the  same time, wore the same clothes. Hitches, bad habits, useless thoughts -- whatever you didn't need slowly fell away. Whatever was simple and useful remained. You improved little by little till the day it all became perfect and stayed that way.  Forever."

And I thought, yes.  That is what I want to let go of.  Not so much that I want things to stay the same,  but this internal idea that I get from somewhere (innate, family, media?  who knows) that every day should lead me one step closer to perfection.  That I need to always be working to change myself and make something about myself better.  Even as I read this I am thinking to myself, "well what's wrong with that?  That seems like a good life goal."  But for me it's a trap.  I need more days where I can sit down and say you are OK just the way you are, Christine, you do not need to make anything "better"  today.  There's freedom in that.

Maybe that's not where Harbach was going.  But that's the beauty of literature.  I, the reader, get to pick what I resonate with and why.  It depends on where I happen to be at the particular moment that I read that excerpt.  That's why I love to read.

Hunger Games the Movie

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Watching Hunger Games as a movie seemed to bring out a whole host of new connections for me that I hadn't made when I read the book. Something to be said there for the difference between reading something as text and seeing the story and emotion played out for you.

When I read the book I was first horrified at the concept. When a friend told me about it and gave me a brief synopsis of the story my reaction was 'why would you want to read that? That sounds horrible and disgusting! Why would you want to watch something like that. She assured me that I would not only enjoy and be captivated by the story but also that I would appreciate the message.

So I dug in and, like many others couldn't put it down. I read straight through all three books. I chewed on the story and was struck by the message that I saw in the book which on the surface seems fairly obvious. But I still always wonder when I read a book if the message I saw there is what the writer intended or just something that emerged, as themes and archetypes tend to do in the process of developing the story. My first take was the comparison of the twelve districts to the third world and the Capital to the United States. Though I guess it is more fair to compare the Capital to any or all developed countries. The flagrant stripping of resources from populations to support a lifestyle of not only ease and comfort but also of obsession with personal aggrandizement in a variety of forms from hair and body colors to indulgence in food fashion and style.

For some reason, when I saw the movie I was particularly struck with the seeming of obsession with and varieties of glassware. Maybe because I love dishes and glassware. I noticed how there seemed to be a proper piece of crystal or stemware for every individual drink.

Anyway, I digress. The second allegory that struck me was that of sending our children off to fight seemingly random and senseless battles to the death to support our first world lifestyles. I know that war is more complicated than that. But the is something sobbing about the idea that has a ring of truth. It just, for me, points to the many ways that we dress up and parade war in order to make it palatable and acceptable. Society goes along with it without really having any sense of why it is taking place. It struck me how cut off people needed to be in the Capital in order to participate in their own society. Also true in my experience for many people.

So that's what I saw in the book. But when I saw the movie, I think the actress did such a great job at depicting the emotional truth of her Catniss' struggle that I saw an entirely different layer of allegory.

And it's these allegories, I think, that make the story so popular. First, in the districts, I see a universal and primal fear that is so very human that something will happen where there will. It be enough resources for everyone to survive on the earth. But not just universally, that I have this primal fear that some day I could possibly not have what I need. And for many a people on earth this is truth. So allegory for some his harsh spiritual reality for others. I think because deep down we all sense that we are vulnerable simply because we are human. There's reall y no way around that.

The second fear that I think is so skillfully depicted in the story is the fear that some person or entity can have power over us and pillage our resources to feed their narcissistic fears. Again, the case could be made here that this is, indeed, what developed countries are doing. This fear plays out on the screen so dramatically in the lives portrayed in the district. And it goes on at so many levels in a very consistent way every day. The corporate executives who take the resources of their employees, the parents who neglect their children to gratify their own fearful needs, the spouse who manipulates his or her partner to get something that they think they need.

And I particularly like the way the author had her heroes portray our journey in life as we are forced to play the game at whatever level, forced to face our own fears and choose how we are going to participate in a culture driven and defined by them.

They are forced into a game not of their choosing, fraught with danger and the risks of making decisions with very little knowledge. Life feels like that sometimes, particularly when I am in transition for dealing with some challenge that I have not encountered before. The movie shows that there are choices. Each person in the games ultimately chose how they were going to deal with the threats to their survival. They could focus on aggression and a constant fear of the externals, the need to 'get what I need at all costs' and the compulsion to 'get them before they get me'. Deeply fear based.

Or there is the choice to see to my own needs, and when I can to help. That's why Catniss was such a great hero. And it appeared to me that three critical aspects of her personality contributed to her survival. I think those, too, are archetypal because there is truth to the result of engaging with those aspects of ourselves rather than any others that could be chosen. First, and leaning to the masculine side and the most respected trait in our culture as her intelligence. She observed things and was able to make incredible connections that served her again and again. But then, too, what distinguishes the simply 'intelligent' person from the one who succeeds. The term 'emotional intelligence' has been coined to get to the heart of it. But I think it's something different or more than just emotional intelligence. The idea of emotional intelligence could be part of it, but only one aspect. It is the more feminine and I would say less respected skill of intuition. It is the same skill that the Jedi warriors used in Star Wars, that martial arts masters use in understanding their opponents. It is a sort of spiritual and mysterious component that we can most closely describe S intuition, Catniss had to trust herself more and more as she tried to make decisions that would save her life and then Petas life and get them home.

I think it was best portrayed in the heat of battle when she didn't have time to think through solutions, she just had to act: when the fire was chasing her, when she had to climb the tree to escape the group that wanted to kill her, when she had to shoot the arrow to kill Peta's captor when they were hounded by the dogs. Instinct. It's more than just going on experience. It's learning to trust something inside of oneself that becomes essential.

And finally, without being overly romantic, the third aspect of her survival was her ability to be on relationship with the people around her in an authentic way and the ability to love and be loved. And the movie dispels a few myths around that. The first is 'the mother love' myth. The idea that Catniss could love because she had been so imbued with love from her mother as a child. It didn't look like it. In the. Obie it appeared that her mother was so devised by her father's death that she wasn't strong enough to give much to anyone,

It also busted the romantic hearts and flowers notion of love and for me that was an important part of making it believable. The love was always messy. The only love that seemed really pure as the love between Catniss and her sister. The love between Catness was confusing and complicated as love so often is. So was the love Catniss had for Gale. And I liked the way the story showed the difference between the way the media portrayed their love story and the truth of it. For young adults coming out of their fantasy world and into the adult world, this is a critical distinction to make and one that I think is missed until much later in adulthood. Of course we all keep it a bit. And we should. We still want the fantasy, but we can be much healthier and I suppose happier, if we agree to live in the world as it is rather than in some fantastical creation of it that we are asked to believe.

Some Thoughts on Choice

This video is very thought provoking.  I don't think she is suggesting that we eliminate choice or that it is so much an attack on capitalism, as helping us understand how humans respond to choice.  It is an interesting exploration of the possible affects that so many choices can have on the human experience and asks each individual be more aware of this and make a choice (ironic, I know) about how to live within this cultural phenomenon. http://youtu.be/1bqMY82xzWo

Sartorialist

I learned a new word today: Sartorial:  adj.  1. of or pertaining to tailors or their trade:  sartorial workmanship.  2.  of or pertaining to clothing or style or manner of dress:  sartorial splendor.

I learned it because I found this web site which I love:  http://www.thesartorialist.com/

If you like "street fashion" this site is a lot of fun...lots of "on the street" shots.  Some runway stuff too, thought that doesn't really grab me.

Author bio:

Founder/blogger/photographer Scott Schuman began The Sartorialist with the idea of creating a two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life.In addition to the blog, Schuman’s work has been featured in GQ, Vogue Italia, Vogue Paris, andInterview; for GQ, Schuman shot and edited his own page for over three years.

More Interviews with Erzebet Gilbert

L1300145To see the blog post with the first two interviews, click here. Favorite Words from the Book

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About writing:  It feels like surgery

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About the annotations:  A Paine in the Bootie Process

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urP_ju-v9Ys&w=420&h=315]

About what she'd like readers to get from the book:  Levitate

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s616lIDTVms&w=420&h=315]

Writing to Re-envision the World

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1lZxYcDTNo&w=420&h=315]

Horrible Moments of Crisis and Doubt

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