All posts by rbowen

Anansi and the Gum Doll (recording)

I haven’t done these in a long, long time, but I just found a book of Anansi stories on Amazon, and I’ll be posting a few of these a week to practice for the interviews I need to do over the next few weeks.

So, to start, here is ‘Anansi and the Gum Doll’.

Those of you who grew up somewhere other than Africa might recognize this story as being the same as ‘The Tar Baby‘ which is the Uncle Remus version of the same story. Most of the Anansi stories have a matching story in Southern US folklore, although for a variety of reasons most of these have picked up racist overtones over the last 200 years. This is one of many reasons that I prefer the Anansi stories.

 

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

I just got done reading White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. I read it because I heard her acceptance speech for an award for her latest novel, Swing Time, and she was brilliant.

I recommended the book to my family before I got very far in it, because it was obvious that it was going to be a great read. I love books that are about the complexities of multi-cultural relationships, and “third culture” kids. That is, kids from one culture, living in another, and not truly part of either.

However, it quickly became obvious that it would be … uncomfortable to think of having recommended this book to one’s mother, as the subject material is often somewhat, shall we say, off-color.

Anyways, the story did end up being very beautiful. But like real life, it was also very ugly. And very sad. And very happy. And tragic, and funny, and … all other manner of contradictions. It also had the most beautiful ending of any book I’ve read for the last year, at least.

So, while I do indeed recommend the book, I can’t guarantee you won’t be offended by the subject material, since it does go out of its way to offend on matters religious, ethnic, moral, and political.

A Christmas Coda, By Will Todd

I have seen a LOT of movie adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Probably most, if not all, of them. And most of them are made by people who don’t really understand the story, and so, in my opinion, emphasize the wrong bits of it, not to mention leaving out all of the humor.

I’ve also read a lot of Christmas Carol sequels, and most of them are just trying to retell the same story, and don’t add much.

I just got done reading ‘A Christmas Coda’, by Will Todd. It is set one year on from A Christmas Carol, and tells you what happened next.

It was absolutely beautiful.

Not only does Mr. Todd get Dickens’ voice, and tell the story very well, but he grasps what Scrooge must necessarily have done next, having received such a great gift. He must pass that gift on to others. But – and I won’t give away where the story ends up – he grasps exactly how he would inevitably give that gift.

Will emailed me a few weeks ago, asking me to read the book. He did so because he encountered my Christmas Carol Glossary, which I wrote for friends who attend my Christmas Carol reading, and found it of benefit. When I was done reading the book, I emailed him the following:

Thank you for this beautiful book. I’ll write a more detailed review once I’ve stopped crying. Thank you.

So, there it is. And I really can’t say more, or it will give it away. Go read it. It’s a quick read, and it is a beautiful continuation – although, not the end!  – of what Dickens began.

Acacia 

Maria bought me a trivet made of a cross-section of an acacia tree. Rhiannon took a smell of it and said “that’s the smell of my childhood”.  She says it’s the smell of one of my leather jackets that I probably wore at a campfire once. 

If you’ve never smelled Acacia, there’s no real way to describe it. Acacia smoke is the smell of Maasai bomas and every carving you ever get from Kenya.

It’s always amazing to me how a smell can bring back such strong memories.

Living in community: Curbing your passion

I’ve had a very frustrating set of interactions over the last 3 days, on an open source community mailing list. Doesn’t matter which one, because I think that these things are universal.

I said “here are some ways we can make things better.” Or, at least, that’s what I thought I was saying.

Several people heard “everything is broken, and it’s your fault.”

At the end of several very heated email conversations, it became clear to me that we all agreed on (almost) everything, and were getting hung up on that initial statement. It wasn’t even that the things that I was proposing were opposed, it was that the way that I presented them was perceived as criticism of what people had done for the last few years.

Email is notoriously bad at conveying nuance. This is amplified in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual community.  Here’s some practical things that I took away from this conversation – most of which I should have already known

Suggest improvements. Don’t focus on shortcomings

Pointing out breakage is easy. Proposing solutions is where the real work is. Now, sometimes, you need someone to say “this is broken and I don’t know how to fix it.” Those situations are very tricky. Tread lightly.

Focus on what needs improving, not on who made it that way

This sounds easy, but is really hard. There’s always someone who spent hundreds, or thousands, of hours, making the thing the way that it is, and so when you point out that the thing isn’t perfect, that person might take it personally. I honestly don’t know how to avoid that, and this week has shown that very clearly. But I can look back and identify some of the things I did poorly, and apologize for them.

Curb your passion

This one is unintuitive. We need to be passionate about our community. But sometimes when you’ve been pondering something for a few months and arrive with all of that passion, people are more likely to mistake that passion for anger, criticism, and so on.

Yes, some people need to get thicker skins. Don’t read everything I’m saying as that we need to pamper everyone’s bruised feelings. But when people aren’t looking in your eyes, it’s easy to take passion as an attack. We’ve all done it.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Confucius, who said, “There is honor in the email not sent.”

Yes, he said that. I was there.

Read your email twice before you send it, and delete half of them unsent. This will lead to a better universe, and fewer three-day shouting-fest email threads.

 

The kind hand of The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

I’m on a Charles Dickens mailing list. Have been for 15 years or more. A noted Dickens scholar, who performs Dickens all year, and does A Christmas Carol several dozen times a year, asked this:

After 25 seasons of touring Dickens’ solo “A Christmas Carol” there is a line which while I don’t perform it still niggles at the back of my mind. Scrooge in the “dismal wretched ruinous church yard” and pleading for a second chance says, “Good Spirit…Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.” Dickens then tells us that, “The kind hand trembled.” The adjective has always puzzled me. Why “kind”? Is Dickens merely adumbrating Scrooge’s redemption – how I’ve always interpreted it – or am I missing something deeper and more sublime? Thank you all in advance. – John D. Huston

To me, this one scene is what the entire book is about.

The ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is the most hopeful of all of the
ghosts, and the most kind. It’s the only one that has a chance of
redeeming Scrooge. Or, rather, not redeeming him, but giving him the chance to redeem himself.

Past is reminding him of things he can no longer change. Not only that, but Past is kind of a jerk about it, rubbing his nose in the worst bits, and insisting that he see one more thing when he’s already had enough.

Present just tells it like it is. Present is even a bit of a silly comic figure, with a very short memory, and who can only see now. Except for his brief moment scolding Scrooge about Scrooge’s definition of “surplus population”, Present is all happy and bouncy. But not kind.

Future is the one who is *truly* there for Scrooge’s salvation, and so is the most kind of the three, even though it is the most frightening – frightening because it requires that Scrooge fundamentally change, and be the “fool” that he accuses Fred of being.

I absolutely love this scene. It almost brings me to tears every time.
He is, indeed, very kind. Kind enough to break the rules a little, and
let Scrooge in on the secret that he can change his future. I also
always remember Patrick Stewart’s rendition of this scene, where he suddenly grasps the reality that he can change the future, and fix what is broken. That moment when Patrick Stewart says “aaaaahhhhh!” is the climax of the entire movie. And it’s the only movie rendition that really gets that scene right.

I’m doing a reading next Friday evening for my friends – like I do every year. And there are some parts of the story that are hard to get through because of how much they mean to me, personally. The opportunity of a second chance is what this book is all about.