Posts Tagged ‘expectations’

Disaster Master

18 August 2009

Dear J-

Growing up my favorite books were always the disaster-adventures; from fiction (The Cay, Call it Courage, Robinson Crusoe) to real life (Adrift, Poon Lim, the Shackleton and Scott expeditions) I’d read along — punctuated by the appropriate sip of water when prompted by the narrator’s growing thirst — right alongside them in that leaky raft or deserted isle.  I think part of me just wanted to be prepared for survival situations, despite the complete lack of application — we rarely camped, we never sailed, and we certainly never ventured far from the highways.  Back when bandages used to come in hinged metal containers I would save them for survival kits, squirreling away random bits of candy, string, tools, and paper (as tinder).  Central to all plots was the indomitable will to survive and the ever-resourceful hero.

So I read with some trepidation The House of Sixty Fathers (Meindert DeJong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak), which tells the tale of a young boy’s journey back to his family through war-torn China; trepidation because let’s face it, between Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston we’ve developed the notion that traditional East Asian culture is steeped in the subjugation of women by insecurely masculine males, all of whom just need some foreign culture to step in and rescue them.  David Guterson — Snow Falling on Cedars; check.  The Joy Luck Club — check.  Between the heart-wrenching descriptions of hunger and desperation, and the palpable fear of discovery, though, we learn something about the protagonist, Tien Pao:  he’s brave and resourceful, not just waiting around to be rescued.  Though the titular House of Sixty Fathers refers to the barracks of American airmen who temporarily adopt him, it’s not solely because he’s a refugee; it’s because he has done them a good turn by rescuing one of their comrades.

I wonder why my expectations of Asian characters are so low; wouldn’t it make more sense to be informed by the rich panoply of faces and people I’ve met rather than the all-too-often flat silhouettes sketched out by modern literature?  I now go into most books with a skeptical eye, wary for the moment I can put my finger on some stereotype and sing out in horrified glee.  With such an acid test, very few books stand up to critical scrutiny; I’m sure I’d be better off not less critical of the books which deserve it, but less wary of ones I don’t know (yet).

Mike

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Shrill Thrill

4 May 2009

Dear J-

The recession is starting to affect us in ways we didn’t imagine; the scaly fingers keep extending and clutching at different things we do. Our day care is laying off the one lady that’s taken care of figgy since she first went — tomorrow is her last day. Beyond the obvious belt-tightening that we keep telling ourselves is counter-productive (odd how we’re encouraged to spend, not save, but cheap is the new chic, and unemployment keeps flirting with double-digits; hard to spend money you don’t have), we’ve watched the steady decline of the under-two set at day care; figgy “graduates” to the big kids this week, and at that point, with only one baby left, they couldn’t continue that program.

When we started, they needed three people to keep up with all the babies; now when I pick her up, it’s as though the nursery echoes with babies that should be there, now missing. Miss Rita’s got a decidedly soft spot for figgy; despite all the naughtiness, despite once biting her, she’s got a gift with the kids that makes figgy rush to her on mornings. Life goes on, I suppose — there’s nothing we can do about it, but I can’t feel like I’m whistling down the wind every time the recession shifts and kicks another support out from under us.

The timetable for economic recovery keeps getting longer, doesn’t it? Expectations get lowered, so that we might not never quite be as healthy as we were before. We spend to avoid going in deeper; the economy is so wickedly complex that no one knows which strings to pull, which tools will work, which path to take to lead us out. Thus we continue riding the waves after the thrill has passed, thus we wait with bated breath for the next tentacle to touch our lives.

Mike

Underlying Judgment

6 January 2009

Dear J-

I feel myself working in slow-motion at times; the more I get pushed the more I feel myself dragging my feet.  It’s not exactly a recalcitrance for being obstinate’s sake, rather think of it this way:  I know how slow my mind works, and pushing me any faster is just going to result in a whole lot of rework and misery.  Perhaps it’s this diffuse feeling again, like I’ve got too many irons in the fire lately.  If I could just get a few things done, then I’d be a bit more focussed.

It’s funny how much our perceptions are colored by expectations and our peers.  If there are universal concepts and definitions of beauty, then it’s because a fair number of people have gotten together to say that particular something is beautiful.  Yet everyone has their own ideas and ideals; the flavor comes slightly differently for everyone, and my colors may not be your colors, but that’s what makes life interesting.  Get beyond the obvious and there’s a world of motivations and reasons under every judgment.

There is the well-worn saw that opinions are like bellybuttons; everyone’s got one.  Moreover, everyone’s convinced they’re right, right?  How much righteousness has been waged in the right to assert you’re right?  It’s too easy to feed yourself the things you’re comfortable reading, the opinions you find unchallenging; the very nature of seeing things in print lends them an official air.  But just like too many potato chips, you start to rot inside without knowing it; your mind stagnates and the closed loop draws ever tighter.  I’m working on finding challenging assertions, but it’s not always easy.

Mike