Saturday, November 27, 2010

Vengeful Turkey

I come from a large extended family: my mom's the oldest of eight, dad's the oldest of seven. Holidays at my grandma Kit's house (mom's side) are crazy: cousins, animals, aunts and uncles all running haywire. Stories are told and retold, children are in and out of the house all day followed by the dogs, cats are hiding in terror, and horses are hitched up for rounds of sleigh rides. It's all loud insanity and it's wonderful.

When I was about five my grandparents lived on a large farm in northern Minnesota, outside of Cloquet. It was more than a hobby farm, less than a farm-for-a-living spread. After all, they had seven kids still at home (four of them teenage boys) to feed so anything they could supply from the farm was much more cost effective for a second grade teacher and a heavy equipment driver for the county. In addition to the herd of horses, cats and dogs for fun, I remember cows, chickens, goats, sheep, guinea hens, and turkeys. There were probably other random animals from time to time...I know one of my aunts had a pet raccoon for a while.

One turkey in particular took an instant disliking to my small five-year-old form. He decided I was a blonde devil and for months I couldn't walk near the barn without him attacking. In case you didn't know, 25lb turkeys fully live and loaded have VERY STRONG wings: he'd extend them out to each side and run at me, screeching and beating his wings at me until I was cornered against the barn. I loathed that stupid bird. My aunt Elyse, only seven years older than me, had to beat him away from me with a big stick. That bastard gave me nightmares every time I stayed at Grandmas for the entire summer.

Thanksgiving came and we were all sitting around the large kitchen table. It was a cacaphony of children and adults all talking at once, passing food, slipping treats to the dogs under the table, and laughing. I, being the oldest (and therefore exalted) grandchild, sat next to my Grandpa, a big, gruff man who was really a big softie with the grandkids. He watched me take a big bite of turkey and waited until I swallowed. Then he told me that was the big nasty tom from the barn. To this day I think he was telling me just to see how I'd react, being a girl mostly sheltered from the more unpleasant farm duties (we never went there on butchering day after the chicken incident).

I cheered and asked for more.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Tribal Vision: A Celebration of Life Through Tribal Belly Dance

Paulette Rees-Denis, the founder of Tribal belly dance in Portland, OR, was kind enough to let me read a copy of Tribal Vision: A Celebration of Life Through Tribal Belly Dance (Cultivator Press, 2008).

I'm primarily a fusion belly dancer: a little oriental, a little salsa, a little Turkish, even a little ballet here and there. I realize my own fusion comes from my main teacher and HER penchant for fusion, but part of my satisfaction with my current group is the ability to try new fun styles as they come up and encouragement to learn everywhere. I suspect that's why I so thoroughly enjoyed this book. I wasn't sure where it was going at first: the beginning chapters are an intertwining of the author's life as well as the evolution of Tribal on the West Coast. As both stories unfolded, however, it became clear that her life in dance was one of the driving forces behind the development of Tribal belly dance, and that both were a journey of exploration and experimentation.

The real connection for me came through the author's desire to create a safe, sacred space for herself and her students. The ability to let go of the real world and just be is difficult enough, but to be able to do it in front of/with a group of women takes a special level of comfort, and I appreciate her desire to give that to her students. I also loved that every aspect of dance is covered, from troupe origin to costuming to watching a student have that "aha!" moment when her body does exactly what she's trying to get it to do.

The photos were fantastic: a visual history of Paulette, the dancers, the students, and the myriad of costumes through the years. Cammi Vance was in MN a few years ago doing workshops, so it was fun to see her "back in the day" as well.

All in all I'd recommend Tribal Vision to any dancer who wants to enrich her knowledge and dance philosophy. And you can be sure the next time I'm in Portland I'll be looking for a class!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Goddess of Spring

Admittedly, I stole my blog title today from a book I read recently (a quite fabulous book, if you like Greek mythology and romance). But Spring arrived yesterday with her fair face and sunny smile, and I can feel everything waking up around me.

Most excellent.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Night Fun

I'm definitely old. Ha!

It's Friday night and I'm watching a Tyler Perry movie while (drum roll...) organizing my email/contacts list and prepping a class for Monday night.

Yeah. I'm old...and the fantastic part is I don't mind it at all. I had a productive week house-wise, applied for some fun job prospects, heard nothing from any of them, and go back to bellydance tomorrow. Life is good at this moment.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ireland and Egypt, Oh My

It's a day for dreaming. Fog is thick and heavy outside, muffling everyday traffic sounds and enhancing the air with a weird mystical feeling that I adore (even though I know it's currently hell in traffic).

After much discussion, it's tentatively decided that yes, if we can afford it (ie, if I get a job and/or sell a book) I should go with Aliyah and others in my bellydance group to Egypt for a week of workshops in Giza in 2012. The prospect of bellydancing IN EGYPT is both thrilling and terrifying: after all, usually I consider myself a lower-level dancer than I actually am. But it would undoubtedly be the experience of a lifetime, and while Egypt and the pyramids is on hubby's list of places to see, it's low enough on the list for him that he encourages me to go with the girls and we can go together later.

In other travel news, should I get this job I've been interviewing for this spring (final interview and decision pending) we've decided NOT to wait until our 10 year for Ireland: we'll go next year dammit! I feel like my travel bug has been stifled for the past ten years: ever since the first timeI went to Ireland I've wanted to go back, but while we were able to save up for Florida a few times and went to Mexico once, we've been unable to do those and save for a big trip. I know: we could've foregone the more inexpensive trips and just saved for a couple of years, but the simple fact is we live in Minnesota: the frozen circle of hell in January. The need to escape for a week and recharge is overpowering soemtimes, and unfortunately due to our own stupidity with credit cards (lesson learned!) and various periods of unemployment we just didn't have the funds to save for a $5k trip.

We do now, and if I get a job we can KEEP those funds in the bank instead of using them while I'm unemployed. I'm looking at this is my incentive to get a job...right now I still really am not ready to go back, but if fate gives me the opportunity I suppose I should take it and plan to reap other rewards. So I used the first part of my time off to get myself mentally and spiritually recharged, and I'll use what time I have left to establish a writing schedule. That way even if I'm working full time I can finish the books in queue, and still someday I may be able to quit working in corporate america all together.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

RIP Mr. Garvey

So two Hollywood stars died this week: Corey Haim and Merlin Olson. I'll not comment on yet another idiotly troubled child actor who coked his life away and, surprise surprise, seems to have died from a lethal mix of OTC and prescription drugs.

Mr. Garvey, however...Who, you say? Well, if you're not a die-hard NFL fan who remembers Merlin Olson from his 70's LA Rams days, perhaps you'll remember him as Johnathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie. The tragic Mr. Garvey, whose beloved wife was killed in a fire along with Mary and Adam's baby...

Yes, I'm a geek.

Anyway, it seems to be a week of death. Ray's father passed away this week also, so our weekend will be filled with memories from Dave and Ray's pasts, probably a lot of alchohol, and a funeral. Sad, and not unexpected (as he was an alcoholic most of his life), but I feel for Ray. I can't imagine how awful it is to lose parents, and this is his second.

Spring and fall are often the seasons of death and rebirth in a literal and mystical way. Lilies are poking their brave little green shoots up through the snow in my front gardens, rain is melting away the last of winter, and yet while the land is waking up some souls are returning to sleep. Transition is hard to deal with, I think, for a tired existence, regardless of the body's physical age, but I've noticed over the years that most of the elderly in my life (directly and peripherally) have died during the major season change, not during the depths of winter. Perhaps those who passed this spring are making way for growth to come and we're just not aware of the impact yet.

Hopefully, the souls passing during this Equinox season are at peace.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Pursuit of Joy

I'm nearly done with week four of unemployment. I haven't been this utterly happy with my life overall since my wedding/honeymoon (before I was burnt out on corporate work).

I'll fully admit I took a long time to let the creative juices back in: that first week I was extra stressed until I figured out how we'd make it financially with me on unemployement (well, I'll be on unemployment in May if I don't find something before then). The next two weeks I worked on finding work, applying for jobs all over the country, attending interviews for one I found in Bloomington, and generally updating my resume and profile all over the web.

This week though, I'm more focused on this creative opportunity. I spent the day today at the library working out multiple ways to pitch articles to magazines for two topics I've spent a lot of time researching. That led to a non-fiction book idea I want to talk about with a friend, a big list of books I want to read for research, and updating the outline for one of the novels. I feel like this is my lucky shot: I'm in a unique position to have a chance to make my living the way I want to, instead of the way I had to in the past. My hope is to someday have a job I can do anywhere, so we can live wherever feels like home to us instead of wherever I can find a job.

In addition to all those shenanagins, I've found I actually really enjoy letting Jillian Michaels kick my ass once a day: I feel better overall and have way more energy, which in turn encourages me to eat better and think up new and fun ways to torment my bellydance students every week. Turns out it's good for me too...hahaha. I've lost a few pounds already and hope to be down at least 25lbs by the time we go to Mexico in May with the family.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Book Review: A Companion to Wolves

When my 72 year old grandma handed me A Companion to Wolves (Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, TOR 2007) she said, "Tell me what you think as soon as you read it." Of course, I didn't notice it's a TOR book immediatley, so assumed it was a Native American storyline (as that's often what Grandma likes to read). Instead, I found a retelling of Norse mythology concerning men, trolls, dwarves, and wolves.

The basic plotline is the classic teenager-grows-up theme, with young Njall at the center of the conflict. Son of a local lord, Njall is the heir to his father's hall but chooses instead to become a tithed payment to the local Wolfheall, and is summarily disowned by his father for reasons not quite clear to him. The wolfmen and their trellwolves are the sole defenders against trolls, who descend from the mountains to burn villages, slaughtering and sometimes eating the inhabitants.

As they are an all male warrior society, each Hall requests tithes of teenage boys to continue their line, in turn protecting the "wolfless men." They have created a separate warrior society devoid of women other than the wolf bitches in the pack. After Njall bonds to a queen bitch puppy, Viradachtis, he realizes the reason his father was so against him becoming a wolfbrother wasn't because he'd been heir: it's because wolf bitches don't bond with women, but through the mating process their bonded are at the sexual mercy of the brothers of whichever wolves mate with the bitch.

Njall, whose name changes to Isolfr when he becomes a bonded wolfbrother, is essentially the new presumptive princess of the pack: as bondmate to a Trellwolf Queen, he'll be half of the founding pair of a new pack and a new hall. He faces not only the battle trials of campaigns against the trolls and wyverns attacking in frightningly increasing numbers, but also the prejudices of wolfless men and even members of his own hall for being bonded to a female and taking on that role in mating.

While A Companion to Wolves is an interesting an fresh twist on the legends of trellwolves, trolls, and man in ancient north lands, there are some licenses taken and clear failures in research that throw the reader out of the story.

The authors have based their story on canine Pack structure and mentality, but then ignored the most basic Pack laws when creating their society. There's no such thing as an "open mating" in a wolf pack: an alpha female mates with an alpha male, period. Also, an alpha pair mates for life. The ways the authors handled the Alpha's matings displayed not only a clear lack of knowledge about any canine pack, but also seemed like a poor excuse to add in as many versions of gay male sex as possible.

The individual sex scenes were rather daring in subject matter, since graphic sex between men is rarely in any novel, they were written in an emotional way that gave the participants more depth than just the hard-bitten warriors they have to be in battle. In the polar opposite of those moments, the group sex scene was shockingly brutal and read more like a bad porn fantasy. The whole episode was inaccurate from a wolfpack standpoint, and from a sex standpoint it seemed more for shock value than anything else: it actually knocks the reader out of the story entirely.

The external conflict of invading trolls and wyverns driven from their caves from another, powerful source known only to Isolfr, is a skeleton story. The battle scenes are bland and generalized with very little action, so it becomes more of a background to the Isolfr-coming-of-age plot. All of his wild adventures with fantastic creatures feel rushed and skimmed over, but they do provide significant character developement for Isolfr himself. The other characters, including Isolf's wolf, his eventual mates, even the village woman he visits regularly are all two dimensional and underdeveloped.

In its entirety, the story felt cropped and too focused on the sexual issues of the protagonist instead of his growth as a full person and leader. If the two plots had been melded a bit more the story would've read more like a fully developed tale, and wouldn't have had the gaping holes in research and design that make the reader stop and wonder what's going on.

Overall I liked the premise of the novel and finished the story, but if I saw the sequel on a shelf I'd pass it up for something more complex, which is exactly what I told Grandma when I was through.