Book Review: Lucy by Laurence Gonzales

LucyLucy by Laurence Gonzales

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost stopped reading this, and I’m glad I trucked through it and finished it just minutes before NaNoWriMo 2010 began. I found the first half kind of slow and, while I like the idea behind the book, the story didn’t really engage me at first. It seemed kind of light and like not much was happening. I found it a little tough to imagine that a 14-year-old (albeit a 14-year-old human/bonobo hybrid) would fit in with high school seniors as well as Lucy seemed to. I did like the details about The Stream and about how the other characters sensed something different about Lucy and all tried to reason it out in different ways.

I found the short sections written in Lucy’s voice to be quite compelling and eloquent. I wonder if the book may have held more interest for me from the beginning were it written in Lucy’s voice, either completely or in larger part.

Then about halfway through, the book took off, and I tore through it. The relationships deepened, the characters developed and became more 3-dimensional, and I began to actually care about them. Maybe it just took the central conflict to transform this bunch into people I’d want to know.

A couple of things I was curious about that Gonzales didn’t address. One was the difference in development between a newborn bonobo and a newborn human. As I understand it, because humans have larger brains and smaller pelvises (because we walk upright), we are born about 3 months earlier, developmentally speaking, than bonobos and chimps are. So when a bonobo is born, they’re at a developmental stage roughly equivalent to a 3-month-old human. With a bonobo mom, would Lucy have been born like a bonobo newborn, and if so, would her head have fit OK through Leda’s pelvis? Or would Lucy have been born at the same stage as a human newborn, in which case, what adjustments would Leda have had to make to allow for a baby who couldn’t immediately cling to her fur with the strength a bonobo newborn could?

At times I found Gonzales’ allusions to be a little heavy-handed. In the portion of Lucy’s memoir that we get to read, there’s an allusion to the Garden of Eden, how Lucy was a bonobo until she learned to write, and then began to differentiate towards the human side of her genetic heritage, leaving behind the innocence of her bonobo relatives. I would have preferred if Gonzales had just let the reader feel clever for having picked that allusion up rather than making direct reference to Eden.

The portrayals of the two main reactions to Lucy’s existence were a little black-and-white, too. Those opposed to her were religious fanatics who wanted her caged and/or killed and those who supported her were all good, intelligent people who accepted her human side and didn’t seem to have any serious problems with her ape side. Seems like in reality, those reactions would be a little more nuanced.

All-in-all I found this to be an enjoyable read. Touches on a fairly surface level some very deep issues (and brought up an application of the USA Patriot Act I hadn’t considered), and explores what it means to be human.

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Week 13/October Review

What a trip this month has been! I’ve not gotten through the whole house yet, but much of it has been decluttered, or at least organized so that the clutter can be easily stashed. With my mother’s help, I’ve finished a bazillion unfinished tasks — mounted and hung my belly cast, cleaned out the garage, put the garden beds to bed for the winter, caulked the bathtub, framed and hung our photos and cross stitch birth samplers — and only have about 347 to go. I don’t know that I’ve made much progress on daily and weekly routines, but I’m not doing any worse than I was in September. On that, at least. I’m back to late bedtime and eating fewer vegetables, but I’m not going to dwell in that.

Oh, the purchasing fast? What purchasing fast?

Focussing on Order was more emotionally turbulent than I’d expected, and only became more difficult as the month progressed. It’s brought some awareness to how I use material possessions to try to meet emotional and spiritual needs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that now at the end of the month I’m looking to renew my search for a local religious congregation.

Yesterday I attended the Kick-Off Party for NaNoWriMo 2010 and was reminded that writers can be a socially awkward bunch (and that it’s not just me). Tune in tomorrow for more about what’s in store for me in November!

Martha Stewart is no Friend of Mine

I don’t know if it’s country-wide, but in our neck of the woods, trick-or-treating happens on the 30th when the 31st falls on a Sunday. My Halloween experiences have given me a sneak peak of what I’m likely to experience throughout this fall and winter holiday season. And unless I can change my outlook, it’s not going to be pretty.

I’ve recognized for a number of years that I can’t reasonably accomplish all of the things I ideally would like to in relation to holidays. Since I’ve never been quite willing to give up my desire for perfection, however, I generally compromise by doing a half-assed job while feeling as tense and acting as irate as I would were I actually attempting to achieve perfection.

The past couple of years, we’ve gone trick-or-treating with our friends in their neighborhood. This year, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, we’re on our own. Now that my daughter is old enough to remember Halloweens past and compare those with this year, I felt extra pressure to make this Halloween special for her. I’ve sought out every event involving costumes I could find, and we’ve been attending Halloween-related activities since the 21st. As a result, I’ve been burned out on Halloween for a week already and it’s not even officially here yet. And my daughter seems totally content with whatever we end up doing. Trick-or-treating? Great! Staying home and giving candy out to the kids who come to our door? Great!

I’m really at a loss as to how to reconcile my desire for traditional holidays (with things like decorations and special foods and gift wrap) with my desire for holidays that don’t involve my daughter very patiently explaining to my husband that Mommy tries not to yell, but that sometimes she does anyway. (“When she yells, I just cry and ask her for huggles. Sometimes she just says bad words without yelling. I think when she yells, she’s teaching me to yell.”)

Do I lower my standards even further, which would reduce our celebration of holidays to little more than a “Happy [insert holiday name here]!”? I would love to hire someone to do the decorating and planning while I just relax and concentrate on not criticizing the people I’ve hired for not doing things the way I would were I perfect. I don’t really see how I can do any celebrating at all while at the same time letting go of the perfectionist part of me.

I guess the nice part is that I’m thinking about this already and it’s just Halloween. This gives me hope for figuring something out by the time New Year’s rolls around.

In the meantime, here’s some of what we did:

 

Our Jack-o-Lanterns. Somehow I ended up carving them all myself (although I only chose the design for one). I let go of my desire for the perfect photo and let my husband take the picture while I made dinner.

This is the only reason I carve pumpkins at all.

 

 

Compromising with Gravity

Last night I followed two of my commandments: Risk Looking Silly, and If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Poorly.

First I side-stepped my inner perfectionist by finally framing and hanging all of the prints I had made and the kids’ birth samplers that my aunt cross-stitched. We have a dentist we like, a place to service our car, hikes we love, farmers we know by name, and now I’ve hung photographs, which means we’ll probably move out of state within the year, given our history. If I find a church I like, it’ll be even sooner. (That reminds me, I had a dream that I tried out a church downtown, and they showed up the next day and mowed my lawn and poured us a new driveway. I thought, “Wow, what a great way to get visitors to continue attending!”)

But back to the topic of this post:

In the evening, I attended an Anti-Gravity Yoga class with some friends for our monthly “Ladies Night.”

For those unfamiliar with Anti-Gravity Yoga, it was developed by Christopher Harrison (a Utah native who now lives in New York City), and involves hammocks hung from the ceiling in which the practitioners sit, wrap themselves, swing, and flip, and out of which, with any luck, they do not fall.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog (and/or if you know me in person), you may have guessed that I’m not much of a thrill seeker. There were a number of things I wasn’t interested in trying in the class last night. I didn’t really enjoy the swinging part and was tentative about the flips. The fabric of the hammock kind of cut into the meat of my thighs and hips, which was uncomfortable and not really something I needed to see reflected in a floor-to-ceiling mirror. But there were some stretches, like downward-facing dog, a variation on pigeon, and warrior 1, that were greatly enhanced by the support of the hammock. The shoulder/heart openers were quite intense, in a good way. My abs and back muscles are quite sore today, which is a little surprising because I didn’t realize I was working my core that much. And man, savasana in a hammock was about the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done.

I was fairly impressed with my willingness to be a little adventurous and try out this new activity. My husband asked what I thought of it when I got home, and I couldn’t really come up with a succinct answer. I don’t generally like things I’m not automatically good at. I’m aware of this and adjust for it in my thinking, so it’s not surprising that my opinion about Anti-Gravity Yoga is nuanced. I think it would take attending 3 or 4 classes before I could say for sure whether it’s something I enjoy or not.

But I definitely enjoyed getting together with friends and meeting new people. If I’m going to hang upside-down with my feet hooked in a sling, I’d much rather do it in a room full of people I know than in a room full of strangers.

5-Minute Dairy-Free Chocolate Ice Cream

Inspired by the chocolate ice cream recipe that came with my VitaMix.

This recipe makes about 5 cups. If you want to, you can cut the recipe in half. That’s actually the way we’ve been making it lately because my husband seems to think that ice cream is just a summer dessert. Why on earth would he believe that?

Ingredients:

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup Ah-Laska dairy-free hot cocoa powder

1/2 cup Better Than Milk Soy or Rice powder

1/8-1/4 cup agave nectar (or sweetener of choice)

2 Tablespoons raw cacao powder (I think plain old cocoa powder would work, too)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups (about 2 trays) ice cubes

Place all ingredients in the VitaMix (and put on the lid). Turn it on variable speed 1 and quickly turn up to 10 then switch to High. Use the tamper that came with the blender to gently jam the ice cubes into the blades. The ice cream is done when the blender starts to sound different and four mounds form at the top of the mixture (30-60 seconds). If the consistency is like a milk shake, quickly add a few more ice cubes and run for a little longer (or just grab a straw and enjoy).

This is my personal favorite of the ice creams I’ve made in the VitaMix. As a result, there are no pictures of it. Next time I make it, I’ll try to remember to grab my camera before devouring the entire batch. (Hmm…I wonder if it would be wrong in some way to make up a half batch while everyone else is in bed…)

Update:

And I didn't even wake up the kids running the VitaMix.

 

Poetry Break

Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. Clockwi...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been having fun spending a lot of time on my posts every night, but tonight, I decided to give myself—and you—a little break.

I happened upon this poem tonight in my daughter’s The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. I love how Milne captures a moment of happiness for this youngster.

Happiness, by A. A. Milne (from When We Were Very Young)

John had

Great Big

Waterproof

Boots on;

John had a

Great Big

Waterproof

Hat;

John had a

Great Big

Waterproof

Mackintosh—

And that

(Said John)

Is

That.

Book Review: Be Happy Without Being Perfect

Be Happy Without Being Perfect: How to Break Free from the Perfection DeceptionBe Happy Without Being Perfect: How to Break Free from the Perfection Deception by Alice D. Domar
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe if this had been one of the first books I’d read about happiness, I might have a different opinion about it. I ended up skimming most of it. It was written in a casual, upbeat tone, began with a quiz, and was set up like a typical self-help book. The recommendations in each chapter also seemed a bit repetitive.

The book isn’t bad, but as I seem to have moved into a more inside-out approach with my happiness project, the simple “try these 5 techniques” style of this book isn’t really what I’m looking for.

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A Record of my Accomplishments (Decluttering-wise)

Here’s what I did yesterday while the sitter was with the kids:

 

Left side of upstairs closet #1. Luckily, it passed the cat's rigorous inspection.

Right side of upstairs closet #1. Don't ask what's in those plastic storage bins.

Pantry (aka, closet under the stairs with the low doorframe I always whack my forehead on). Yes, it's stuffed. But that's a good thing, right?

 

If you sent us a card for our wedding, sorry but it’s now in the recycling. (Well, I kept a couple of personal notes, but the cards that were just signed are outta here.) And what you don’t see is that there used to be a ridiculous set of white plastic shelves just inside our office door that served as our pantry. I managed to get rid of enough stuff that I was able to fit all of the items from those shelves into either the kitchen cupboards or that under-the-stairs closet, which might explode next time we go to Costco. The shelves are now in the upstairs bathroom waiting for the extra toilet paper and tissues that are currently stored in my clothes closet.

Today, I moved all of the craft supplies from the upstairs closet to the hutch-and-buffet thing in our dining room, which is where we do most all of our crafts anyway. I made space in that piece of furniture by moving a bunch of cake pans and glass pitchers to the otherwise useless space in the back of the corner cupboard in the kitchen. I did this while standing on a stool with my son clinging to my legs and laughing.

The bottom shelf still holds food items, but the upper two shelves are all crafts.

 

Craft closet/pantry extension/hutch and buffet. The green boxes are from the extra wedding invitations I finally discarded. They now hold pompoms and sheets of colored craft foam.

 

While the potatoes simmered on the stove this afternoon, the kids and I raked the yard in preparation for the snow/rain/sleet/slush we’re getting as I type this. Mostly what the kids did was sit in the leaves I piled on the tarp then rode on the tarp as I hauled them and the leaves to the holding piles under the big evergreen tree things at the edge of the yard.

I got one heck of a workout this afternoon.

 

Leaves that were, until a few hours ago, covering our lawn. We keep them in piles to use as "brown" for the compost throughout the year and to cover the garden beds in the hopes we'll have lovely soil in them that's ready to plant come spring.

 

I also went through a collection of keepsakes in the antique trunk my mom gave me when I got married. I found portions of my childhood rock and shell collections, which I gave to my daughter, and several stuffed toys which I tossed towards the children and let them dive upon. Included in the bunch was a plush football with the initials of my high school on it that my brother made in home ec class, a hand-made “word fun” activity sheet (an Easter-themed word-find) that my sister made for me, I think when I left for college, and this:

 

I'm pretty sure my little brother drew this for me to take with me when I left for college. I love that Garfield is saying, "Rad."

 

I also found several school photos, band photos, and homecoming photos of friends from middle school and high school. I considered scanning and posting those to my Facebook profile, but decided that these were people I’d prefer didn’t unfriend me.

When my husband returned home from work, my daughter immediately showed him all of the great stuff I’d given her and made a point of how special they’d been to me when I was a kid and that now I had given them to her. My husband spent the evening asking me where things were. (“Honey, where are the crackers these days?”) I gave him helpful responses. (“In the cracker cupboard, dear.”)

Joyfully Moving

I got to attend the Monday night step class at my gym tonight, which I’ve only done once before, even though I loved it that one time I went. I’ve got the babysitter from 2-5 on Mondays and the class is at 5:30. Every time I think of how much I want to go to that step class and start to reason through how I can make it work to attend the class, I stop myself. It’s bad enough to take time away from my kids to go to the gym. I should just work out while the babysitter’s there and not try to take any more evening time. It’s too much trouble for my husband, it’s too much time away from the kids, it’ll mess up dinner time.

I recognized this attempt to avoid doing something for myself in the section of Marion Woodman’s Addiction to Perfection that I read last night:

For the perfectionist who has trained herself to do, simply being sounds like a euphemism for nothingness, or ceasing to exist. When the energy that has gone into trying to justify her existence is redirected into discovering herself and loving herself, intense insecurities surface. Abysmal emptiness questions whether she is here at all . . . To cease to give is to cease to mother, and where the ego is identified with mothering it doesn’t know at first what to do. It is so used to giving that it doesn’t believe it is worthy to receive, or else thinks that receiving is demeaning or selfish.

I smiled as I recognized myself in this passage. Then I took a pad of paper and wrote a note to my husband (who was already in bed) explaining that I was going to stick around home and clean out closets and get dinner ready while the babysitter was here, and then I was going to go to the 5:30 step class.

During the morning, I did manage to do some prep work for dinner (including making two batches of GF/CF pita bread, one that turned out more like GF/CF hockey pucks and the other that was softer but for some reason didn’t form the little pocket in the middle). But I ended up spending the entire three hours that the sitter was here on two closets, and I didn’t get any more done on dinner. I considered scrapping the step class idea, but in the end, I stuck with the plan and left my husband with a recipe book open to the falafel recipe and a bowl full of soaked garbanzo beans.

Waiting for the step class to begin, I scrutinized my image in the mirror (especially the tummy pooch I still have because I cannot seem to get my abdominal muscles to close up since they separated while I was pregnant with my son), compared myself to the other attendees, wondered if I should have worn long pants instead of shorts or a short-sleeved top instead of a tank top or if I was lame for having only one riser under each end of my step rather than two like most of the rest of the class had. But as the class began, I let these thoughts pass and focused on the beat of the music and my breath and the rhythm of my feet. I found that I was able to keep up with the cues better when I didn’t think about them. There were a number of times when I got to the end of a sequence and realized with surprise that I was actually on the same foot as the instructor and facing the same direction as the rest of the class without consciously trying. I also enjoyed watching how the instructor clearly enjoyed leading the class. I decided I really liked him, and I really liked my gym and Salt Lake City and my kids and my husband. I spent the class filled with love and joy, and I had just a great deal of fun.

I worry sometimes that the step class isn’t as intense or well-rounded a workout as my regular workout. As a result, I tend to consider it a treat to only take part in once in a while rather than as a core element of my exercise regimen. If I start going to the class regularly, I wonder if I’ll experience what Woodman describes: “once that forgotten energy begins to flow through dancing, painting, singing, joy is not experienced as selfish or luxurious, but as an absolute need.”

Woodman also writes about a lecture by Northrup Frye in which he points out that the word “rejoicing” in a passage from Proverbs is translated from the root word for “play.” One of the churches I’m planning to visit has this note on their website:

We Worship God Through Movement As Well As Words
Our bodies are God’s own creation through Jesus.  God knows what it is to be human.  Movement can be a way of giving ourselves back to God.  You will see many people crossing themselves, bowing, and kneeling at certain times.  When you come to worship try movement and see if your experience of God is made greater.  Movement, though, is not required. You may find it perfectly fulfilling without it.

I noticed that when I first read this, I felt a little uncomfortable. It seemed kind of hokey to me, and I felt a little nervous about what the service would be like with everyone moving around and giving themselves to God. But now I’m wondering if this could just be the reaction of that part of myself that is more comfortable with the “masculine” and resists any shift towards the more “feminine,” which would include the physical body rather than just the intellect. Maybe I feel more loving when I’m moving with the music in step class because I’m more complete and therefore more open to the spiritual. Maybe I’m rejoicing through play.

This morning while mixing up the first batch of pita dough, I put Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53, on the CD player. The baby smiled up at me and started dancing. He ran his little feet, flapped his arms, spun in circles until he fell down, and laughed when I joined him and danced across the kitchen. I remember dancing with my daughter when she was around this age. Her favorite was Bing Crosby singing Jingle Bells. I wonder if kids are born knowing how to rejoice through unselfconscious movement and we—well, some of us—just lose it as we grow older. Maybe we’re all born with the masculine and feminine fully integrated within us, and as adults, it’s simply a matter of rediscovering that balance.

Week 12 Review: The Dangers of Openness

As I’ve come to expect at this point in the month, I’ve started losing my zest for my resolutions. I’ve not done much decluttering this week since my mom left. I’ve been buying things. I’ve made some headway keeping daily routines and examining why I have trouble keeping the ones I’m not keeping. I did complete another nagging task by re-caulking the bathtub. This was actually a task on my husband’s to-do list (it’s been on there since we moved in in January of 2009), but it was nagging at me, so I just did it.

I’ve found that after two weeks in a row attending Mass, I miss attending church. I’m considering doing some church-hopping starting in November to see if I can’t find something that feels right for me and my family.

Something else I’ve discovered this week is that I’m feeling really emotionally raw. I think this might be a side effect of all of the mindfulness and openness and emotional awareness I’ve been fostering in myself. I just feel really sensitive to rough treatment and rough words, even those not directed at me.

A friend posted a link to a story about a 5-week-old baby who died of pertussis. I felt so much pain for the family who lost their little baby. I don’t even care to imagine what that must be like for that baby’s mother, father, and brother. After reading the article, I scrolled down to the comments, against my better judgment. Some were outpourings of emotion for this family, but for the most part, it was an argument about vaccinations and whether people who don’t vaccinate are evil or not and whether they ought to be imprisoned and/or have their children taken away from them.

I wonder if this is an example of giving over to the “masculine” side and using our intellect at the expense of our emotions. Perhaps it’s more comfortable for people to argue causes and lay blame than it is to simply sit with the pain of realizing that sometimes babies die.

I know a woman who is a labor and delivery nurse in a local hospital. Several months ago, pertussis went through the nursing staff. It took an alarmingly long time for anyone to recognize it for what it was, and the nurses continued working through their illnesses, exposing goodness knows how many postpartum moms and newborn babies before the illness was identified. In my experience, most nurses are caring, educated people who work awful hours and get paid not nearly enough for the intensity of their jobs and the toll it takes on their health and their personal relationships. Also in my experience, nurses are pretty big proponents of vaccination. If an outbreak of pertussis can happen in this group of people, it seems to me you can’t really link it to negligence or poor morals or just not caring about others, which were some of the accusations lobbed in the comments on the article. Sometimes shit just happens, even when we do our best to prevent it. Contrary to what some of the commenters suggest, I believe that no parent “deserves” the death or serious illness of their child as a result of the decisions they’ve made.

From what I can tell, as parents, we’re all doing the best we can. We all have our children’s best interests at heart, even when we disagree about what the best decisions are for our kids. We gather the information, weigh the pros and cons based on that information, and make very difficult decisions, many of which we won’t know the results of for years and years, if ever. Nothing is black and white. But I can see the appeal of trying to make it so when faced with a reality as painful as the death of a baby.

And it really hurts to be open to these things. My inclination is to shut myself off again, bury myself in Facebook or reading or frenetic decluttering, anything to turn up the mental noise and distract me from these feelings. But another part of me doesn’t want to close down. That part of me actually enjoys in a way the feeling of connection I get along with this pain. It kind of reminds me of how it felt to give birth to my son. The sensation was so intense that it was difficult to just surrender to it and let my body birth. Much of me wanted to get away, to run away, or specifically to crawl under the floor to escape the intensity of the sensation. But in the days following his birth, I found I missed the experience. There was a part of me that loved that intensity. I felt alive and connected and powerful even as I surrendered to the power surging through me. I cried and cried in the days following his birth because I wanted so badly to have that experience again, to be in the middle of something so big and all-encompassing.

Perhaps if I’m able to let go and birth myself in this new wholeness, I’ll look back at the pain and intensity of the process wistfully while at the same time reveling in the release of the complete—and joyfully imperfect—person inside me.