Friday, July 25, 2014

Things I Will Be Doing INSTEAD of Reading This Week

Some scenery from my trail crew trip last year.
          Starting this Sunday, I will be on a volunteer trip to repair trails in the wilds of some area of the United States whose name currently escapes me.  I've done this kind of thing once before.  Basically, we start out at some kind of wilderness headquarters and hike out to a patch of trail that needs maintenance.  Then we come back five days later, dirty, reeking, and very happy to see a flush toilet.  
          There will be very little space in my monster hiking bag for frivolities such as books, so I will not be reading much this week.  This is a list of what I will be doing instead:

          1. Stuffing my monster hiking backpack with supplies, struggling to hoist it onto my shoulders, and then buckling under the weight like a sad and metaphorically charged statue, like my friend did on our last trip.    
          2.  Burying unwanted food scraps such as apple stems so that my counselors don't make me eat them.  Littering is, of course, COLOSSALLY frowned upon on trail maintenance teams (the slogan is "Leave No Trace"), and we can only carry a small amount of trash back to headquarters, which means that volunteers are expected to eat apple stems.  Gaaah.
          3.  Falling asleep at 8 pm  because we are actually tired at that point.  
          4.  Getting excited because I found the perfect "scree" rock.  
          5.  Giving up on combing my hair after developing an impenetrable knot at the nape of my neck.
          6.  Missing soap, deodorant, shampoo, lotion, and smelly bubbly bath products.
          7.  Going to a river once every day to fill two multi-gallon jugs of water and then dragging them back to camp to be filtered or purified with iodine. 
          8.  Tying up bags of food so so as not to draw bears.
          9.  Working on a story about a serial killer who preys on members of a trail crew team and kills using trail repair tools.  The story will be called "Leave No Trace."   
          10.  Remembering that I don't need as much stuff as I think I do.  
           - Carly

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lessons to be Learned From the Princess Sara Crewe

          Have any of you read A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett?  It was the book that made me love books.  (Does every book-lover have one of those?  Do you?)  I first read it when I was very little and have spent the last two days rereading it, as I tend to do every few years.  
          But the thing that struck me about the story this time around is that the story's preteen heroine, Sara Crewe, seems to have life completely figured out.  Even when she loses both her father and her fortune and is working as a hated scullery maid at her London boarding school to pay off her debts, she never sacrifices her virtues of benevolence, hope, and grace.  Her secret is that she considers herself a princess in spirit, even when she is no longer as wealthy and privileged as one.  Sadly, I have not yet gotten my life philosophies together and lack Sara's ability to gracefully accept whatever life throws at me.  So, in order to stop feeling inferior, I have compiled a list of tricks and tips from the Princess Sara herself!

A Guide to Grace from the Show Pupil of Miss Minchin's Boarding School, Sara Crewe

1. Be condescending to those who irk you.  

Sara treats bullies, such as headmistress Miss Minchin, the cook, or her former schoolmates, like peasants who are mistreating her out of ignorance and whom she could easily have executed, if she weren't such a benevolent ruler.

2. Never forgot the power of an "If you please" or a "Could you be troubled to".

This makes it harder for the cook to find fault with Sara's behavior, frustrates Miss Minchin, and generally mystifies all the people who seek to beat Sara down.  It's harder to abuse a person who is nothing but gracious and polite!

3. Tell beautiful stories set in underwater palaces built of mother-of-pearl.
Sara's greatest power is her imagination.  She uses it to make the best of bad situations and to charm the people around her.  Even when she is in disgrace, the adoring outcasts of her school sneak to her attic bedroom at night and escape their own lives by listening to her stories.  

4. Read and learn.

Sara loves to read and considers her education to be one of the only things separating her from a common beggar.  I think that, given a few more years, she would have eventually rescued herself from poverty by virtue of her own intelligence.

5. Be selfless. 

Sara considers this to be the most important quality of a princess, and she clings to it even at her worst moments.  She even tells her friend Ermengarde, who struggles in school, that"Perhaps to  be able to learn things quickly isn't everything.  To be kin d is worth a great deal to other people...Lots of clever people have done harm and have been wicked." A real princess always puts her subjects before herself, and that is what people should most take away from her story.  

          To Sara's mind, princesses don't need to have tiny feet or fawning princes or enough money to purchase a fleet of pumpkin carriages.  Here is Sara's (superior) definition of a princess:
          "She says it has nothing to do with what you look like, or what you have.  It has only to do with what            you think of, and what you do."
          Guys, let's all try to be princesses and princes this week!
          - Carly

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: My Greatest Challenge This Summer, It Seems, Is Deciphering The Dubliners by James Joyce

The best way to read during the summer is indoors with the AC waaaay up,
so you can wrap yourself in blankets
          Which means, I suppose, that I'm having a nice, relaxing summer so far.  My only other challenges have consisted of soaking up sunburn and working as an intern at a writing class for little kids.  But reading The Dubliners, a famous collection of short stories set in Dublin, has proved harder than either of those.  To give you an idea of why, allow me to quote a few passages from the book:

          "'Some of these fenians and hillsiders are a bit too clever if you ask me,' said Mr. Henchy" (pg. 125).
          "'But I'm greatly afraid our friend is not nineteen carat.  Damn it, I can understand a fellow being hard up but what I can't understand is a fellow sponging'" (pg. 124).
          "'He takes th'upper hand of me whenever he sees I've a sup taken'" (120).
          "'Sure, amn't I never done at the drunken bowsy ever since he left school?'" (120).
         "'Hasn't the working-man...a better right than those shoneens that are always hat in hand before any fellow with a handle to his name....One man is a plain honest man with no hunker-sliding about him'" (121).
          "'That takes the solitary, unique, and if I may say so call it, recherche biscuit!'" (50).
          "'There's nothing to touch a good slavey,' he affirmed" (52).

          Do you see what I mean???  The book is set in Ireland and was first published in 1914, the year the first World War broke out.  Trying to understand this old-fashioned Irish jargon seems, to me, like trying to read Italian - I can guess at what's going on, from what I know of the similar languages Spanish and English, but not much more.
          And aside from jargon, there are the historical references to Parnell, religious and regional rivalries, and other things that I am just not very familiar with.  (I feel like we Americans are very egotistical in terms of our education system - we devote so little time to studying countries other than our own.  If my high school history classes taught me anything about Ireland, for example, I might have understood this book better!)
          I ended up asking some Irish friends of mine to read one of the most dialogue-heavy stories, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room", out loud to me so that I could pepper them with questions whenever I got confused.  I learned that fenians and hillsiders are basically country bumpkins, sponging = freeloading, and a shoneen is a yes-man or a fool.  I also heard all about Parnell, a great Irish king who brought Ireland together and who would have made the country great if he had not been removed from power by petty politics.  It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy evening.
          The most important thing, of course, is that I loved the book, and I loved it even more after I understood what the characters were saying!  Joyce had an amazing talent for translating the voices of people around him into written dialogue, and my appreciation for this gift was not lessened by my ignorance.  In addition, when we were listening to "Ivy Day" being read aloud, everyone in the audience interrupted with their approval each time a new character was described.  "His face, shining with raindrops, had the appearance of damp yellow cheese save where two rosy spots indicated cheekbone" was my favorite one-line description.  I can perfectly imagine the new character's cold sallow face popping out of the dark committee room door.
          One word of advice: If you're clueless like me, I do suggest that you make use of a well-rounded dictionary as you read this book, to be used whenever a word such as spondulic appears.
          - Carly