Posted by: tuulenhaiven | December 7, 2014

There’s a time to break and a time to chill

I have been getting a crash course in hip hop culture lately, and it has been fantastic. A major initial draw to my AmeriCorps host site was the “Hip Hopera” that the high school puts on every year – a student produced, written, and performed show. That environment of creative learning sounded amazing and I wanted to be a part of it.

When I had my interview with the site supervisor, she asked me if I was into hip hop…and I had to admit that I wasn’t – not yet! My go-to answer when facing questions like that is, “I grew up listening to the 3 C’s – Celtic, Christian, and Classical – and I’ve been trying to recover ever since.”

Fortunately, my ignorance of hip hop culture didn’t prevent me from being placed there, and I’ve enjoyed several months of relentless inspiration, creation, and hard work. The raw talent buried in these kids is incredible. They will goof off for days, then suddenly drop a killer beat, startle me with a powerful spoken word piece, or draw a comic that blows my mind.

The kids are writing rap songs and learning to DJ, and their beats are almost impossible to keep still around. As I stood in the doorway of the recording studio a few weeks ago, covertly shuffling my feet (I walk down the hallway and kids are krumping, so I don’t dance in public!) I realized that I was being irresistibly drawn into the mysterious world of hip hop.

Conveniently, a friend had left the first two volumes of Ed Piskor‘s Hip Hop Family Tree at my house, so I was able to start educating myself in style. As I mentioned recently, I mostly read comic books/graphic novels these days, so Piskor’s books were perfect.

An ‘encyclopedic cultural chronicle‘, the series digs into the history of hip hop with gusto. I was soon surrounded by the world of the Bronx in the mid-70’s, meeting Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and the Sugerhill Gang. What a party! They were making new kinds of music while other folks were forming dance crews, and turning graffiti into an art form.

The first two volumes of Piskor’s history of hip hop take you as far as 1983, and the second volume covers only 3 years – so to claim that the books are packed with information is an understatement. They are dripping with detail, each panel (never-mind the whole page!) practically a story in itself.

The amount of research that went into the books is astronomical. Piskor (a Pittsburgh native, incidentally) charts the managers and recording labels that set the cornerstones for the industry, follows the making of the Wild Style movie, and brings you into the childhood bedroom of famous hip hop personalities.

Piskor’s ability to capture sound and movement in a silent 2-D format is mind boggling. The story is action-packed, and Piskor frames it with a cinematic eye, capturing the riot and romp of parties and epic rap battles between MC/DJ crews. The colors mimic classic comic books (I think I read somewhere that Piskor created a pallet straight from the pages of old comics) which make a powerful visual statement.

In short, I loved these books and can’t wait for the next volume (coming out next year! and currently serialized online at Boing Boing!).

Of course I couldn’t just read Hip Hop Family Tree - I had to listen to the music as well. Thank goodness for YouTube! I’ve been obsessed with old school hip hop for weeks now, letting it become the soundtrack for my life.

The culture is infiltrating my life in other ways too. I watched the excellent Wild Styleand have since been looking at the graffiti around Pittsburgh with new eyes – and drawing it. I am learning how to make beats, and wouldn’t be surprised if my secret dance parties led to an attempt to pick up some break-dancing moves…!

I knew when I started serving as an AmeriCorps KEYS member at a high school in Munhall, PA, that it would be a life-changing experience (after all, it would be part of the answer to, “Do I want to become a teacher?”). I didn’t realize that it would be the final kick against the door into the hip hop world, causing me to tumble through.

Now that this little white girl from coastal Maine is here, I’m not coming back. There’s way, way, too much to see and hear and do. I don’t mind lending my ears and hands to tracking down the perfect beat…!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | November 23, 2014

Beneath the Bloomfield Bridge

The Pittsburgh weather was kind to us today and I took full advantage of the warmth and sun. I hiked up to Polish Hill for some breakfast at Lili’s Coffeehouse, then went to one of my favorite look-out points – Melwood Avenue where it slips quietly underneath the Bloomfield Bridge.

The bridge leaps over the deep Bloomfield Ravine (also called Skunk Hollow, lovely!) and although Melwood Ave. runs beneath one end, the view from this spot is high up and all of Bloomfield and Friendship/Garfield can be seen spread out below. I was shown this spot in March and have revisited it frequently, watching the city move through the seasons, and checking out the new tags on this part of the bridge:

Bloomfield Bridge, March 14th 2014

Today my eye was caught by graffiti on the left side of this, and I crossed the road to take a picture (of that dragon-face that looks like the dragon in Jeff Smith’s Bone.)

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

I was pulled on around the corner by more interesting graffiti, and found myself in a veritable gallery of urban artwork – layers and layers of the stuff!

The Revolt “room”:

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

(Above) Looking down (the backside of the “Polish Hill” wall)

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

A detail on the “Revolt” wall.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

Looking up.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

Floor to ceiling…

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

Going up deeper under the bridge, there was another “room”, this one featuring ramps for a whole other art form.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

I gingerly trekked up and down these steep slopes, careful not to slip on glass or cement crumbs or flakes of graffiti.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

The bridge hummed above me as traffic moved back and forth, and the inevitable hawk soared by, chased by a starling.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

I reveled in my discovery, loving the secret art gallery – another element of a fantastic bridge. When I first moved here and started exploring the bridges, I found the Bloomfield Bridge to be boring. Walking over it was a long, tiring endeavor (with the slight upward slant to it), and it wasn’t visually exciting like so many other Pittsburgh bridges. Now though, it is my answer to the question (posed by people humoring my obsession) “Which is your favorite?”

Like so many things about Pittsburgh, this has come as a surprise to me – but it is one that I am happy to embrace with all my heart. (Just like the weather today!)

On Thursday I’ll have a lot to be thankful for, and the graffiti gallery beneath the Bloomfield Bridge will be on the list. Happy Thanksgiving folks!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | November 17, 2014

World Travel During Breakfast

I work a lot now, folks. Or rather, I serve a lot. As an AmeriCorps member I am serving at a charter high school in Munhall, PA, and I am there from 7:15 in the morning until anywhere from 4:30 to 6:30 at night. It is wonderful! I am helping develop a documentary film-making club and a reading program, and I spend parts of my day recording music, or watching my kids dance and sing and educate their creative souls. They also goof off constantly, can’t stop talking, and are beastly, obstinate teenagers half the time. But the other half of the time makes up for that!

It’s hard for me to get through a book these days. I listen to audio books during my epic bus rides (an hour to two and a half some days…) and in this way managed to knock Cloud Atlas off my list. I read Maggie Stiefvater’s newest book – Blue Lily, Lily Blue – on a lucky free weekend day (loved it!). But it took me about 3 weeks to get through Nnedi Okorafor’s short story collection Kabu Kabu (which I didn’t particularly enjoy).

I made a wonderful discovery a few weeks ago, however, which has kept my reading life from being entirely depressing. While lusting over graphic novels that I couldn’t afford one Sunday afternoon at Copacetic Comics, I remembered that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a huge graphic novel collection – and the main branch is open on Sundays! Amazing city, this. I promptly hopped onto a bus and went to satiate my hunger.

I read Craig Thompson’s (author of Blankets) first book – Good-Bye, Chunky Rice – while at the library that day, as well as the first volume of Aya, which was great. Writer/artist team Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie bring to life a lively heroine and a vibrant city in nineteen-year old Aya and the Yopougon of 1978 Ivory Coast days. She and her friends try to navigate young adulthood with humorous and heart-breaking success. The warm colors of the artwork are delicious, and the writing is decent. I’m eager to adventure further with Aya and her girlfriends.

I took home a huge pile of graphic novels that day, and I’ve been reading them in snatches over my own breakfast and while at school supervising the kids during their pre-class breakfast. I get through one every few days in this fashion, which helps me to maintain my readerly self-respect…!

David Prudhomme’s Rebetiko (trans. Nora Mahony) was another good one. It took me to 1936 Athens, where a rag tag group of Rebetiko musicians are being persecuted by the police. Dodging General Metaxas’ men at every turn, the men pursue their nightly parties full of hash, women, drink, and always the music that they truly live for. Prudhomme manages to convey through his artwork and words the sultry, mischievous, danger-edged feel of these nights, and the sound of Rebetiko – the blues of the Greeks.

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan sent me spinning off to modern-day Tel Aviv, where a cab driver and a female soldier try to determine if Koby’s (the cab driver) father was one of the victims of a bombing in Hadera. Koby is reluctant at first, having been estranged from his father for years. As the pair unravel his father’s (possibly) last few months, Koby is forced to rediscover who his father is, and along the way examine who he himself has become. The story was interesting, but the artwork really won me over. It reminded me of Tintin a bit, with it’s clear lines and bright colors.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston (possibly the world’s first “scrapbook novel”?) brought me back to the US in the 1920s. Preston told her tale through vintage postcards, magazine ads, catalog pages, ticket stubs, letters, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, patterns, menus, and more – the tale of Frankie Pratt, who always wanted to be a writer. The book is fun because of it’s format – the story is a little humdrum, but it is a treat to look at.

Actually, I came back to the US and stayed there for a bit, although I didn’t realize it because it took me awhile to notice that Unterzakhn by Leela Corman was set in New York’s Lower East Side. (I thought it was Russia, maybe?) The black and white artwork for this story is striking, and I found the story of sisters Esther and Fanya to be compelling, but frustrating. Life for these children of immigrants in 1910 was hard, and Corman brings out the rough and tumble of it. The girls each make choices in the hope that they’ll lead to a better life, and I watched in dismay and wonder as their choices led them down tangled pathways to failure and success.

The last book I finished was Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk. I was enchanted by the pretty cover, but the insides of the book didn’t live up to it. I won’t spend too much energy talking about it, since it is getting late and I’ll never get used to getting up at 5:30 a.m…!

The Carnegie Library of Homestead is across the street from the school where I serve, and I’m excited to go there tomorrow, return this stack, and check out a whole new pile of graphic novels. Because we all know I’ll be reading Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon for all of the foreseeable future… (They might have set Wicked to music, but I’ve always found his books to be dense and interminable…somehow I enjoy them despite that!)

Just as much as I’ll need my coffee and muffin, I’ll be needing my breakfast reading!

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Posted by: tuulenhaiven | October 26, 2014

There’s a Dalek Hiding at the Carrie Furnaces!

Living in a rust belt city has gradually trained my eyes to see the beauty in old industrial sites. Much of the history of Pittsburgh is tangled up in the steel industry, and it’s collapse in the 1970s and ’80s took most of the physical infrastructure with it. I spent part of last summer out in Braddock, working at a farm that lay in the shadow of the Edgar Thomson Steel Works, the first steel mill built by Andrew Carnegie (in 1872) and pretty much the last one still in operation in the region.

As I traveled in and out of Braddock I saw another “last of it’s kind” – an intriguing huddle of huge old blast furnaces, with a tower rising almost a hundred feet above the Monongahela River. I badly wanted to go exploring there, but it looked inaccessible – not to mention dangerous! My interest was stirred up again when these buildings featured prominently in the closing scenes of the movie Out of the Furnace.

Oct. 17th 2014

I would never have guessed that I would end up helping with the preservation and renovation of the Carrie Furnaces, but one recent October morning I found myself doing precisely that! After two weeks of sitting through trainings on mentoring and tutoring and CPR and conflict resolution, my fellow AmeriCorps KEYS members and I were rewarded with a service project at Carrie Furnaces.

It turns out that it is the focal point of a proposed National Park, and is currently part of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Furnaces #6 and #7 are all that is left of an extensive iron mill that was once part of the Homestead Works. Built in 1907, what looks like an alien tangle of rusted towers and pipes is actually a rare example of pre-WWII iron-making technology. And I got to scrape dirt up off one of it’s old floors!

Oct. 17th 2014

When I discovered that our service project was going to be at Carrie Furnace I pretty much jumped up and down. My fellow members thought I had lost my mind. But boy, were they sorry they hadn’t brought cameras when we showed up there! I had trouble focusing on our work, and kept swapping out my shovel and wheelbarrow for my camera. As if the structure itself wasn’t fascinating enough, there were guerrilla sculptures, beautiful graffiti, and things left over from sanctioned art installations.

The Carrie Deer - Oct. 17th 2014

Oct. 17th 2014

Oct. 17th 2014

The Carrie Deer has a long and interesting story, and the graffiti wall is a designated area, in the hopes that it will keep folks from tagging the historic structure. Music videos are often shot here, and I believe there has been a wedding or two set against this unique backdrop. There will be an epic Halloween party at Carrie Furnace next weekend…!

Oct. 17th 2014

I could have spent hours and hours exploring the place, picking the site historian’s brain, waiting for the light to hit various bits of the old blast furnaces in new ways…

Is this actually a giant Dalek? - Oct. 17th 2014

And once I noticed that this thing looked like a huge Dalak, it couldn’t be unseen.

I was reluctantly dragged away by my friends, who wanted to go eat pizza and drink beer after all of our hard work. I was mollified by tickets the historian had given us to an event at Carrie Furnaces the following Saturday. There would be an iron pour and a casting demonstration. Of course I went.

The Penn State Master Gardener Program had partnered with Rivers of Steel to survey the plants and the land in and around the Carrie Furnaces, in an effort to better understand what was going on in the disturbed soil. They wanted to develop an interpretive component to the research project, and someone came up with a brilliant plan to cast plaques in iron – very fitting given the site and it’s history. A team of artists and master gardeners, and some folks who actually seemed to know what they were doing, got together yesterday to pull off the feat in front of a large audience of curious locals.

It was so cool to watch! They had cobbled together a scaled down version of the furnace you see above (the Dalek!), which is a cupola style furnace. They then proceeded to melt down recycled grey iron (broken radiators and bathtubs!) at 3000 degrees.

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

They tapped the furnace repeatedly, then poured the molten iron into prepared resin bonded sand molds for the “Iron Garden” plaques, and other items that the participating artists had come up with.

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

There were some very exciting moments as the molten iron flowed and the workers dashed about, refilling the furnace, tapping it, pouring the glowing orange stuff into the molds. Music was playing, the audience cheered and exclaimed, and the whole thing was very punk rock in a way!

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Their little furnace was supposed to produce around 3 tons of iron that afternoon. Back in the day, Carrie 6 and 7 consumed 4 tons of raw material for every ton of iron produced, and any given day during it’s peak (1950s and ’60s) it was making 1000-1250 tons of iron. Crazy stuff!

Standing there watching the buzz of activity I couldn’t help feeling confusingly poignant. The blast furnace that loomed above me had been silent and still since 1978, it’s refractory brick-lined insides slowly crumbling away, it’s frame rusting. Back in the day…what was it like at the feet of Carrie 6 and 7?

I didn’t miss the noise and fumes and smoke I could readily conjure up, and was heartily glad that the land around the iron mill was slowly healing and the skies above were clear. Still, there was a wistfulness around the place that afternoon that mingled with the crowd and tempered the excitement. The people of Pittsburgh were once proud of the work that got done here. Back in the day…

Anyway.

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

The giants of Carrie Furnace will go on sleeping, but at their feet, meanwhile – cross your fingers! – the region will continue to find innovative ways to move forward. I feel more a part of that than ever, now that I serve (as an AmeriCorps KEYS member) at a school across the river from there, in the borough of Homestead (where so much historical stuff went down).

Living in a rust belt city has trained my eyes, and my heart, to see all kinds of beautiful new things!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | October 19, 2014

The Girl From the Well

by Rin Chupeco

Ay, yi yi…Japanese ghosts…! I don’t often wander where they haunt, being fully aware of the fact that they do it with extra doom. I don’t want to be scared to death – and that’s what they do best! I did tremble my way through Rin Chupeco’s book, however, which stars Okiku – a terrifying female ghost who has been fighting the frightening fight since who knows how long (but at least since 1741).

In Chupeco’s tale, Okiku has traveled far from her well at Himeji Castle, and has spent the centuries bringing vengeful, horrible deaths to the killers of children, drawing inspiration from her own murder. Her actions free the souls of the dead children, but her own soul is trapped on earth. She eventually meets Tark, a teenage boy who is possessed by his own personal ghost, and her curiosity and loneliness draws her into his life. His cousin Callie is his other champion, and she and the ghost girl form a tentative partnership to save Tark.

This book has some pretty significant strengths and weaknesses. The story is interesting, but Okiku is the only really vibrant character. All of her bits are wonderfully chilling, and the visuals Chupeco conjures up are shiver-inducing. As I’ve mentioned before, I can stomach horror in books better than movies, and I’ll readily admit that if this book had been in film-form I would have been watching it from the cracks between my fingers… Spooky visuals galore.

Callie and Tark are less fleshed-out characters (despite being alive), and the dialog is rather stiff. There are a lot of interesting cultural details, and when our heroes leave the US and go questing in Japan there are fun countrysides and castles to explore. The story is narrated by Okiku, which works pretty well since she can pull off both first-person and third, drifting about following the other characters. It’s a bit of a stretch at times, especially when Callie dreams or when Okiku is somehow able to listen in on Callie’s thoughts, but hey – she’s a powerful spirit, in possession of all kinds of special talents!

I found The Girl From the Well via Library Hungry’s review during #Diversiverse, and knew I’d be reading it for R.I.P. IX. I liked it overall and it’s definitely a good Halloween read. I’m interested in digging into the folklore behind Okiku’s legend more, and maybe tracking down some other Japanese ghost stories (in book form – I won’t be watching The Ring anytime soon, or reading Koji Suzuki’s book for that matter…not this year anyway!)

Any recommendations along these lines?


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Posted by: tuulenhaiven | October 13, 2014

Of duck ponds and dollys

I’m sure you all saw that recent episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor told young Danny Pink about the huge benefits of being scared? Thusly:

Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain it’s like rocket fuel. Right now you could run faster and you can fight harder. You can jump higher than ever in your life and you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time.

What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower! Your superpower! There is danger in this room. And guess what? It’s you.” – DW 8:04 ‘Listen’

Great stuff, am I right?

My friends can attest to the fact that after watching an episode of Supernatural, I often wish someone would accompany me to the bathroom. I had to watch Twin Peaks during the day, and preferably on sunny ones. My boyfriend tickled me in the midst of watching Manhunter the other night and I nearly bloodied his nose.

There’s a strange pleasure in being spooked though, in making it past the gaping dark entrance to the attic stairs without being caught by a pale white hand, in ignoring the shape behind the shower curtain, in leaping onto bed and getting the quilt pulled up to your chin just. in. time. Rocket fuel, like the Doctor said.

My autumnal reads haven’t scared me properly thus far, but I’ve enjoyed a bit of haunting via Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Susan Hill’s double feature The Small Hand & Dolly.

The ocean at the end of the lane is in fact a duck pond, but Lettie Hempstock saw further and deeper than others. The unnamed narrator of Gaiman’s short novel finds his way back to the pond as an adult, and remembers all in a rush a series of events that nearly swept him away as a child. It began when a man committed suicide in his father’s car, at the lane’s end in front of Lettie’s farm. Something was released into the world, something dangerous and strange. Lettie promised no harm would come to him, and the little boy trusted her – even when evil forces found their way into his home and everything he knew about how the world fit together was challenged.

I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.” – p. 143

The adult narrator loses himself in his childhood memories, which lends a mature tone to the voice of a serious, observant, but vulnerable little boy. The adult can’t hope to explain some of the things he saw then, and the boy didn’t fully comprehend other things he witnessed. Both sets of eyes present a straightforward story, therefore, and that adds to the horror and to the fay quality of it. It’s a dream-like tale, with magic and wonder and surreal landscapes, but also the very real confusion of a child trying to navigate a world full of adult whims and rules. He constantly finds safety or at least distraction in books, which I related to strongly, and those books help him to survive and tell his own story.

Bizarrely, I haven’t read many books by Gaimen – I believe just Coraline and Stardust, beside this one – but I have so much respect for the author and how, and to what purpose, he wields his pen. This wasn’t my most favorite book of the year, but it was certainly delightfully moody and devilish, and a good R. I. P. read.

Susan Hill’s two little books were a bit more spine-chilling. They are ghost stories, and both deal with the sort of haunting where the consequences of a childhood act must be paid for in the end. They have delicious, irresistible build ups, and the sort of creeping imagery that gets under your nails and bores into the back of your skull, until you have to look. They’re not BOO! in your face scary – Susan Hill is deftly subtle.

The Small Hand is kind of fun because aside from the ghost story, it is the tale of a Antiquarian bookseller, tracking down a Shakespeare first folio, and there’s a lovely bit of travel up into the mountains of the Vercors, France. Of course our hero, Adam, has an encounter with the small hand on that dark, rainy road – which is as atmospheric and unsettling as the derelict Edwardian house in the English Downs, where it all started.

Dolly is the worse of the two tales, if you find porcelain dolls and pretty little girls terrifying at the best of times… It’s set amid the fens, always a sinister and lonely place, and in a slowly rotting old house – perfect. The adult narrator recollecting his childhood experiences reminded me of Gaiman’s book a bit, but this haunting doesn’t remain tidily in the past. Dolly and her like stalk Edward and his horrible cousin Leonora into adulthood, and Leonora’s act of petulant rage will never be forgotten.

Honestly, I would have fared badly if these tales had been in movie form, which is why I enjoy reading ghost stories, but usually steer clear of the horror genre in films. Still…this autumn I may attempt The Woman in Black - although I haven’t read Susan Hill’s most (?) famous book. However, I’ve been enjoying Daniel Radcliffe a lot lately (A Young Doctor’s Notebook, anybody?) and I like to challenge my senses – get in touch with that superpower, scared.

With these books I completed “Peril the Second” for the R. I. P. IX challenge. I’m currently inhaling The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco, which is definitely a R. I. P. read (and, incidentally, a #Diversiverse recommendation!), so despite my late start I’m getting plenty of spooky reading in before Oct. 31st ticks by.

What’s scaring you this autumn?

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | October 3, 2014

Getting My Spook On

I have been a slacker this year about signing up for and participating in Carl V.’s (of Stainless Steel Droppings) annual R.I.P. reading challenge. R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (IX) is one of my favorite book blogging activities, and I usually start consuming spooky books and movies with concentrated attention as soon as the calendar flips to September. Distractions (bookish and otherwise) piled up this autumn, but it’s not over till it’s over. The gorgeous banners drawn by Abigail Larson for the event have been haunting me from the sidebars of blogs everywhere, and they will now lend melancholy to my own.

lavinia-portraitRIP350

The rules of the challenge are simple. Read or watch perilous things (anything along the lines of Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or Supernatural) and then share your love for the macabre with your fellow R.I.P.ers via the review site, found here. The event started Sept. 1st and the group is a vicious bunch, so there are already hundreds of reviews up. I will go grave robbing among them shortly to find some reading/watching suggestions.

The challenge has several “perils that you can choose to complete. Since I am starting a month late, I will endeavor to stay on this side of Death’s door by accomplishing:

ripnineperilsecond

I must read two wicked books before Oct. 31st! Or else… I will very likely also participate in “Peril of the Short Story” and “Peril on the Screen”, just for extra skull and crossbones points.

I haven’t officially participated in this challenge since 2011, due to moving back and forth across the country and other boring life things, so I am especially excited to join the zombie hoards again. Pittsburgh is a great city to R.I.P. in, and I look forward to uncovering a few of it’s ghost stories, and hanging out with George Romero (director of Night of the Living Dead), who filmed many of his horror films in and around the city. I’ll be dipping into my Poe anthology and probably knocking back a Shirley Jackson story, but I don’t know what scary novels I’ll read yet. I can’t wait to ravage the R.I.P. reviews, and my local library shelves, and see what I come up with!

Opening up a similar vein, All Hallow’s Read is upon us! Devilish author Neil Gaiman is the werewolf pack leader of this event, which is another spookily simple affair: give someone a scary book for Halloween.

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I shouldn’t need to explain it beyond that. I just need to find THE book to give away, and then pick who gets it. I will report back when these things are accomplished – and you should do the same! Because giving away books is fun! Check out what one of my local Pittsburgh shops (Rickert & Beagle Books) is doing to participate – I’ll definitely be popping round there sometime this month to pick up a few books (and maybe run into one of the owners, Peter S. Beagle himself…?!)

Stay tuned for perilous posts. Quoth the raven, “Manymore!”

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | September 30, 2014

Diversiversiversiverse…!!

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The concentrated effort to support and inspire more diversity in literature headed by Aarti of BookLust – A More Diverse Universe III – has ended in it’s official sense for 2014. She wrapped up the event here on Sunday, and shouted gleefully about the 73 bloggers who reviewed about 120 books over the two weeks of #Diversiverse.

I read five books for the event, and have added dozens of new titles to my TBR list. I read two books off of the list I concocted for myself – The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, and Everyone Leaves by Wendy Guerra (still need to review that…) I raided my local library’s pleasantly diverse YA collection and turned up Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor and Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis. I also read The Good Braider by Terry Farish, and realized that the author was a white lady from Connecticut only after I’d finished it (paying attention is free, yo…)

Which brings up an interesting point – we definitely need to see more diversity in books written by Caucasian and POC authors alike. But for POC authors it can be hugely frustrating, and seem unfair, when a white author writes a book about people of color and then joins the throngs of published books by white authors. For 20 years now the percentage of books by and about people of color has been floating around 10%. Not okay!

Author Ellen Oh discusses “Why Being a POC Author Sucks Sometimes” and touches on her own irritation over white authors who try to write multicultural stories, while grudgingly appreciating their efforts – if they do it right.

It is a complicated situation. There is no easy answer. We need diversity in literature. We need it desperately. Diversity is not only for the under-represented—the truth is, diversity is important for everyone. All people need to be exposed to other races and other cultures in positive ways. All people need to learn tolerance and acceptance of differences. When we promote only a homogeneous view of society in our literature and our media, and deem books or movies about minorities as unsuccessful, it harms everyone. And so it is important that all authors include diversity in their books.

Ellen Oh quotes writer Claire Light, speaking on the doubly damned white author writing about people of color:

If you do do it and get it “wrong”, you’ll get reamed, and rightfully so. It’s presumptuous of you to think that you have the right to represent a culture you don’t belong to if you can’t be bothered to properly examine and accurately portray that culture.

Further, if you do it and get it “right”, or rather, don’t get it wrong, you’ll still get reamed by members of that culture you’ve represented who rightfully resent a white writer’s success representing their culture.

All of this applies to Terry Farish’s book – The Good Braider – which is about a girl named Viola, who escapes South Sudan with her mother and comes to America to start a new life. Terry Farish (whose first job was working for the Red Cross in Vietnam during the war) lived in Portland, ME, for years and made many friends among the real-life Sudanese refugees who immigrated there. In the book’s Acknowledgments she lists them and speaks about how they impacted her life and helped build the story she came to write.

Perhaps this, then, is a book about people of color written by a white lady from CT, done right? Like Ellen Oh says, it’s complicated. But it is a good book, and one that Naomi Shihab Nye and Uma Krishnaswami were happy to stick up for. It is written in verse (I am on a real novel-in-verse kick this year, let me tell you!) and Viola’s voice is powerful. The book is full of details both beautiful and brutal. Terrible, violent things happen in war torn Sudan, and Viola and her mother carry their wounds with them to Portland, ME. (Trigger warning, for the wounded readers among us all: the story deals with rape, abuse, and PTSD.)

The journey from Sudan to Cairo is full of dangers, but Viola overcomes the obstacles with grace and intelligence. Life in the US brings many new difficulties, as she tries to fit in and find her identity, to be both Sudanese and American. Her struggle to adapt, to heal, and to blossom is a moving and important story.

I remember reading a newspaper article when I was a girl, growing up in a coastal Maine town, about the Sudanese refugees who were moving into Portland, ME. The community was finding ways to welcome, to house, and to understand these new neighbors and hopefully friends (Maine is still one of the whitest states in the country…) and I, who had no idea at the time what they were fleeing from, hoped that some would move to my little town. I wonder what my teenage years would have been like if someone like Viola had moved in next to me?

I can’t say if the book would have been better if it had been written by a Sudanese writer – I’m just glad I read it. I’m glad Farish took the time to listen to her neighbors’ stories, to learn how they braided their hair, what their food tasted like, and what their Congolese beats felt like in her tapping toes. That’s what I hoped to do as a girl, and what I still hope to do whenever I meet someone from a culture that is different than mine. I know that Farish wrote her book in the hope that it would inspire new understanding and friendship between people. That’s what we’re all hoping for when we demand multicultural stories.

Everyone needs to write them, especially the Sudanese woman who, like Viola, escaped the violence of their homeland and arrived in the US to build new lives. I want to hear their stories, in their own words. I’ll seek them out, and I’ll demand that they get published. Which brings us back round to #Diversiverse.

As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s not over. I’m on a roll here, and my TBR list is swollen with new authors and titles. I was going to list all the ones I’m excited about, gleaned from the #Diversiverse reviews (and I haven’t even gotten through them all yet!), but I’ve gone on here long enough. It was an exciting two weeks, and I’ll be benefiting from it for probably the rest of my reading days. #Diversiverse on folks!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | September 29, 2014

“Dust thou art, to dust returnest/ Was not spoken of the soul.”

Sept. 27th 2014

Sometime last week it became autumn. That’s always a great day! Autumn is my favorite season – the time of spooky stories, pumpkin beers, brilliant foliage, and serious cemeterrying. I went to Boston to wish one of my sisters a happy birthday this past weekend, and was joined while I was there by the rest of my sisters. They know that I love cemeteries, so all 5 of us plus a few other friends spent part of a gloriously sunny afternoon wandering around Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Sept. 27th 2014

I could have spent much longer exploring America’s first “garden cemetery”. It was established in 1831, with the intent to be a more pleasant place than the typically dismal church side graveyard. It’s landscape varies from steep to rolling hillsides, with trails leading into hidden groves and grottoes. It doubles as an arboratum – there are thousands of trees and about 700 different species and varieties. Many of them are very old and very large. The cemetery succeeds in being a peaceful, beautiful place where folks can wander and ponder the sentiments found on gravestones like this one:

Sept. 27th 2014

I like that quite a bit. I wonder who said it? who is buried beneath it? who thought it was the fitting thing to put on their stone?

When I’m in a cemetery I often think of a book I once read by Peter S. Beagle called A Fine and Private Place. It’s about two troubled people who meet in a cemetery, in the afterlife unfortunately, and fall in love. It’s lovely and melancholy and would be a perfect book to revisit during this autumn season. The title (and inspiration for some of the plot) comes from Andrew Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress – 

The grave’s a fine and private place

But none, I think, do there embrace.

My very much alive sisters and I did quite a bit of embracing over the weekend, some of it in the cemetery (but of course not in the grave) and enjoyed some of that real! and earnest! life that the tombstone above shouts about. Pumpkin beers were drunk, and a 13 lb. salmon was smoked. Board games were played. Music was listened to. I discovered the band A Hawk and a Hacksaw and remembered that autumn is an excellent time to listen to the accordion, if it is pumping out the wistful, somewhat unsettling sounds of Balkan and Klezmer and Eastern European-inspired music, thusly:

View of downtown Boston from the tower - Sept. 27th 2014

I spent my anniversary in Boston (seen above from Washington Tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery) , but I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for a year now. This time last year I was pretty excited to be here, and I am pleased to say that this is still true. The trees are starting to turn, Southern Tier’s Imperial Pumking is on tap once again, I haven’t finished exploring Allegheny Cemetery yet, and I’ll begin a brand new job/adventure in a few days. I still live with one of my best friends, and I’ve made some very good new ones in the past year. I lost the hat that I brought with me from Oregon (the one I’m wearing in the picture from last year’s arrival in Pittsburgh post) but I found a new one that has been treating me well – just like my new home!

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Urban hiking in Pittsburgh – I almost never leave home without that hat, that bag (complete with “I read banned books!” pin), and my camera in hand.

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | September 23, 2014

Mare’s War

by Tanita S. Davis

I’m so pleased that I found this book during my last library visit, because in addition to being an excellent #diversiverse read, it introduced me to a forgotten piece of American history – the Women’s Army Corps 6888 Central Postal Directory Battalion. This was an all-female African-American battalion – the first one in the Army and the only all-female battalion to serve overseas during WWII.

“Somewhere in England, Maj. Charity E. Adams,…and Capt. Abbie N. Campbell,…inspect the first contingent of Negro members of the Women’s Army Corps assigned to overseas service.” 6888th Central Postal Directory Bn. February 15, 1945. Holt. 111-SC-200791. – from the National Archives

Davis ran into the story of the Six Triple Eight while looking for information about her grandmother, and while she didn’t find anything about her own family she felt compelled to tell the story of another grandmother.

Mare’s War is about two grand adventures. Octavia and Talitha have been forced to spend their summer vacation accompanying their grandmother Mare on a road trip from California into the Deep South. Both sisters are less than thrilled about “babysitting” Mare, who, with her fast red car, push-up bras, stiletto heels, and no nonsense attitude, is a bit of a handful. Octavia doesn’t know if she’ll survive the trip, stuck between strong-willed Mare and her older, cooler, equally obstinate sister Tali. However, Mare’s stories about her own teenage years earns both girls’ grudging respect, and as the miles roll beneath the car wheels Octavia and Tali discover that they have a lot to learn about Mare and each other.

Mare’s story is one of stubborn determination to make something of herself in a world that was mostly unwilling to support or assist her. Society and her mother expected her to work in Miss Ida’s house dusting furniture for the rest of her days, but Mare had other plans. An education, a good job as a secretary, and a pleasant place to live for her sister Josephine and herself didn’t seem like much to ask for. It was more than she’d ever get in the Deep South of the 1940s though, so Mare ran away from home and joined the 6888th African-American battalion of the Woman’s Army Corps.

New friends, strict training, deployment to England and then to France were all taken in stride. The segregation she encountered within the Army, and overseas, was still bitter to swallow. No amount of job-well-done could take away that pain, but like everything else in her life Mare shouldered the burden and soldiered on. She achieved much of what she’d aimed for, and then some, as she discovers late in life during a summer road trip with her granddaughters.

The book flips between the present-day trip and Mare’s story, Octavia narrating their daily struggles together and Mare of course telling her own tale. Mare’s voice is strong and her story is full of interesting details about daily life for a WAC at that time, and the more specific trials a “colored servicewoman” endured. The “good enough to die, but not good enough to drink from the same water fountain” story repeated itself over and over. Mare’s experiences in England were especially poignant, as she and other women from the 6888th interacted at times with perfectly decent Englishmen/women, and then turned around and slammed into racism and hatred from white American soldiers. This balancing act was tricky, and it was painfully obvious that while one war was coming to a close, the “war at home” for Mare and her friends and family was still far from being won.

In the present day, Octavia feels and sometimes sees how there are battles still being fought, especially as the red sports car heads deeper and deeper into the south. The two teenagers live in what feels like a very different world than the one Mare grew up in, but some things haven’t changed enough.

It’s an excellent book overall, but I am more than usually grateful that the author sat down and wrote it. The story of the 6888th battalion has been lost and buried. The unit wasn’t even recognized for it’s services until 2009, and by then only 3 women could be located. I found an article from earlier this year in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about one servicewoman – Anna Mae Robertson, now 90 years old – whose daughter contacted her state rep and demanded that her mother receive the military honors she deserved. This bit of the 6888th’s story was detailed:

The work began in Birmingham, England, in 1943, when Robertson and the rest of the Women’s Army Corps 6888 Central Postal Directory Battalion were assigned to tackle a two-year logjam of mail. Given six months, they finished in three.

Toward the end of the war, their performance earned them a trip to Rouen, France, to get a mountain of mail moving on the continent. Again, they were given six months; again, they were done in three. From there, it was on to Paris, where they were given top-notch treatment in appreciation for their work.

After that though, they were sent home and promptly forgotten.

Major Charity Edna Adams, commander of the 6888th, and eventually the highest ranking African American woman to serve in WWII, wrote a book about her experiences – One Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC – which was published in 1989. There is very little else out there about these women, beyond some magnificent pictures in the National Archives, and now Tanita S. Davis’ book.

“Auxiliaries Ruth Wade and Lucille Mayo (left to right) further demonstrate their ability to service trucks as taught them during the processing period at Fort Des Moines and put into practice at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.” December 8, 1942. Oster. 111-SC-162466. – National Archive

I’m pleased that my involvement in A More Diverse Universe inspired me to check this book out. Davis’ blog looks like an interesting read, and her debut novel – A la Carte – also sounds good. And of course I look forward to learning more about the 6888th battalion!

I found this picture of women from the 6888th on Tanita S. Davis’ blog – check out her post about it!

There are still 4 days left of the official #diversiverse event. This post will be the 81st review listed over on Aarti’s blog. I hope we get at least 100 before we’re through!

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