You have to love those Renaissance-era scholars. I mean they were just so cute. They had all the brains, but (saving Aristotle and his buds, a Roman or two, and a double handful of carefully ignored Arab luminaries) a shortage of giants with big shoulders--so much of the arrogance they had, but so little of the being right about stuff. So the unfortunate (or comical, depending on your disposition) aspect of all that scientific awakening was that real empirical theory had to go through its requisite hocus-pocus phase. You couldn't keep the alchemy, the Hermeticism, the astrology--and certainly not the accepted mystical dogma of the Roman Catholic Church--out of the more legitimate scientific pursuits. You may want to ask a real historian, but there can be no coincidence that the reformers started to take swipes at the pope's miter at roughly the same time that the scientists began to challenge the sacred natural assumptions. The two centuries or so that separated the original Doctor Mirablis (1214-1294) from the loopy Doctor von Hohenheim (1493-1553) seem a hell of a lot shorter than the one century that separated the latter from Newton and Pascal. (Even the scant decade between Paracelsus' death and Galileo's bawling entry into the world seems like it must have held a metric eternity tucked away in it.)
(And hey, wouldn't it be fun to see Roger Bacon battle Paracelsus in a rasslin' style steel cage match? Or, say, Rabelais take on Thomas More? Unfortunately, MTV stopped answering my letters in 1988 or so.)
Davies takes a fun stab at academia in The Rebel Angels. It's set, according to the book jacket, in a modern University, but his characters are medieval and Renassaince scholars mostly, and share much of their personalities with their antiquated research subjects. The professors are secluded, romantically stunted, bookish, collegial types with well-defined relations to the holy church (Anglican of course, we're talking Canada). One is even a degenerate, renegade monk. Even the science professors are shown pursuing ridiculous antique theories on body shape and bathroom habits, and theorizing about determinism of character. Davies presents the sort of academy that Rabelais envisioned, a utopia infested with amusing and obscene crackpots. (Davies even offers a running lowbrow theme of scatology, to which he manages to give an intellectual gloss, succeeding at the impossible task of turd-polishing). I wish I could tell you whether Davies does Rabelais credit in this modern reimagining, but as usual, I'm under-read on the primary sources. I will tell you that he does a hell of a job in his own right.
Which isn't surprising. Robertson Davies is just a hell of a writer. He crams in observation and philosophical detail to beat some of the windier geniuses I've reviewed (Mark Helprin, say, or Don DeLillo), but damn, he does it with lean prose and laser-precise (though not always laser-accurate) observations. The characterization is deeply detailed, and as a bonus, in The Rebel Angels, compared to some of the other Davies books I've read, I actually liked these people. And it's fun. Davies reads like he was having a blast as he wrote this, and it comes through in the reading.
I've a few nitpicks, of course. Davies doesn't fail to include a conspicuous Canadian-ness to this novel (a distinction which seems such a Canadian thing to stress).* He also has an unforgivable penchant for trilogies, but in this case I may break my proscription against reading the same author twice in a row. My more serious complaint is that the novel doesn't map very well to my own time in the academy. Davies takes a rather conservative definition of the liberal arts in this book, relegating by action (if not design) engineering and the physical sciences to the realm of lesser trades. (One of his best scenes is a faculty dinner, and he succeeds at being esoteric and irreverent, but I so wanted the computer scientist or the astronomer to pipe up and do something respectable.) I didn't spend a lot of time with those grad students, but I strongly suspect that their bosses had no more opportunity to occupy rarefied realms of pure thought than did the science and engineering advisors, and similarly had to divert a lot of research ideas to their students for tutelage and to also harvest the work of their busy young brains and hands. And any discipline that requires funding can only afford to be so removed from conferences, and marketing, and demonstrating some value of the effort. (Though arrogant liberal arts types have told me differently--I've got a small chip on my shoulder, it appears.) I only hope that Davies' parodies of classicists and historians are as biting as his parody of a biologist, but frankly, he seems to love those former types of people a lot more.
Keifus (If I were projecting Renaissance kooks to the modern era, I'd have gone more with the alchemy)
* Don't get me wrong, I love Canadians. They're like Minnesotans with diction, or Mainers with teeth (and diction). I've yet to meet a Canadian man who couldn't out-fight, out-skate, and out-drink me, and never seen a population of males who can wear mustaches with such comfortable ease. Canadian women are real women, their clipped accents are indescribably cute, they're lean and strong, with not one of 'em a useless dainty effete. I only wish I was ever man enough to fight any of their brothers. (Plus their govt isn't the same brand of authoritarian jingo-slinging imperialists as mine, and they've got a health care system that sorta works.)
(I still lost half my readers, didn't I?)
Author: Robertson Davies
Title: The Rebel Angels
Genre: fiction, contemporary fiction
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Friday, January 26, 2007
(with apologies to Jon Stewart, of course)
Sure, the process is futile, sure it's a choice of dumb or dumber, Pepsi or Coke (when the choice I really envision is between whiskey and mother's milk), the evil of two lessers, a military- or prison-industrial complex with or without emission controls. So yeah, I'm cynical, I'm jaded, and I have never been much of an activist. But there are certain things you must do to earn your complaining rights, and it's high time I did. What's more, if you're, say, under 50, then you should realize that you're paying for the retirement and medical insurance of your parents, while pretty much abrogating your own. If you want some of that good pander, you have to do your duty and bitch about what you ain't getting.
I've always voted, but one thing I've never done is write my congressman. My friend hipparchia has made the point that it's about time I embraced my responsibility as a reasonably intelligent person. She's begun a campaign to write every member of the congress, and I support it. I encourage you to visit, copy and paste or contribute your own letters as is your desire. Write in, it's your civic duty. And if you don't accept that it is, then you should at least do it to cover your ass when it comes time to make your complaints.
Here's my letter to Senator Kerry:
You will perhaps be pleased to know that I voted for you in your last Senate run, and also in your more recent presidential bid. My condolences on the outcome of the latter. I thought your views on a "Manhattan Project" for alternative energy were wise (though understated), and though I wish you targeted us better, I thought that you were in a unique position in that race to capture us voters who believe in both sound budget policy and individual liberties. Again, my condolences--we're all worse off for your defeat.
I am writing because I feel it's my civic responsibility, and one forestalled for much too long. I am a 34-year-old research scientist with a young family, and, I think, exactly the sort of person who is under-represented in the political process. Although I vote (registered as unenrolled, but courting Democrats), and although I follow politics with some interest, I have little time for telephone polling. Although I am fairly jaded about the process, I am not without hope. I am a member of the blogging community, and converse regularly with many political activists in that arena.
Getting to the point, here are the priorities that this constituent envisions for the upcoming congressional session:
The administration is making similar motions now as it did in the run-up to the Iraq war. Please Mr. Kerry, insist on the congress' unique right to declare war under the Constitution. Do not let this president act to invade another country.
I remain disgusted with the disingenuous talk about timetables or set deadlines. Immunize yourself from these idiotic slurs, please, especially since it's the language of your opposition. Criteria for withdrawal are reasonable. Please take the initiative to define them concretely. (The president hasn't.)
The president's ethanol initiative is foolish, and amounts to little more than a sop to the industrialized farming lobby (which, I am sure you are aware does not reside in Massachusetts). I encourage you to fund research in solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal power. Coal may work as a stop-gap, but it is damaging to the environment, and contributes to global warming. "Clean coal" still contributes to atmospheric contamination in the form of CO2, and conversion of carbon to carbonate (the product of scrubbing technology) is not very energy efficient, limited so by the laws of thermodynamics.
Energy independence also means conservation (not an easy sell!) and it also suggests making it more affordable to live closer to places of employment. As it stands today, living in the city means either living beyond one's means or living in crime and disrepair. Although I'm not ideologically disposed to promoting urban welfare, it makes more sense than sponsoring highway development over the years.
Massachusetts, with possibly the strongest technical university system in the country, is in a special position in this regard. Housing can be an economic pillar only so long as there is space for new homes, or as long as we can afford the commute. Meanwhile, manufacturing continues to decline. One reason the U.S. has been competitive in the twentieth century is that we have fostered entrepreneurialism and because we have a superior secondary education system. New technologies need to incubate in this country and grow into real industries to support future economies--this should be a national priority.
Although I realize Democrats have been in a minority for the last several years, your priorities have nonetheless been skewed. Medicare legislation, for example, was threatened with a filibuster, but the enemy combatants act rolled through. This is unconscionable. Between this act, the detention of inmates in Guantanamo Bay, the PATRIOT act, and warrantless wiretaps, the congress has abandoned its vigilance under the Bush administration. Now that the Democrats are in a majority, reverse these intrusions now. Please.
Health care is something I think about a lot. Although I don't like government planning, a widespread insurance model is nearly the only thing that makes sense. Even if the opponents' view is true, that U.S. medical care is superior, then still the universal insurance model should hold. A possible way to communicate this is to discuss how (1) the public health is best served this way, (2) the risk is shared to the highest degree (which is the entire basis of insurance), and (3) it will reduce administrative costs for insurance users. Reports have shown that Medicare, which includes the population most likely to be sick, is more cost efficient than private plans. Something to consider.
Thank you for your time, Senator. I hope that you represent me well in the new session.
Riffing on an august-style groove here. Hope he doesn't mind. Music can move you, but it can be anti-inspirational too. Here are some bad ones for academics:
1. "Can't Explain" by the Who
I know what it means, but...
2. "Sober" by Tool*
I am just a worthless liar, I am just an imbecile
3. "Can't Even Tell" by Soul Asylum
I know you want to know if it's real [it's not]
4. "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2**
[better find it quick!]
5. "Night Train" by Guns n Roses
ready to crash and burn, I never learn
*Dawn: I neither love nor hate them.
**Also, what's with the sentences ending in prepositions?
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
The Face in the Frost is a book that's been on the to-read list for ten years or so, a much-loved work among various communities of sf nerds. Every time I went to the crappy local used book stores, it was (alphabetically certainly) near the beginning of the typically futile search. The series of strictly young adult books with which Bellairs followed this one pollute the Barnes and Noble shelves of course, but Face is a little deeper in tone, on the cusp of young vs. merely adult, and I never found it in the major chains next to the others (although, I just discovered, it was reprinted in 2000).
The Face in the Frost was written in 1969, inspired, by the author's admission, during the mania over Lord of the Rings, but even though it contains wizards, I think that one reason it's acclaimed is that it (thankfully) reads nothing like old man Tolkien, but rather feels like it's its own animal, drawing magic more from the hidden cloisters of the academy than it does from the forgotten spirits of the earth. Instead of pairing it with the YA stuff I'm reading to my kids, it will be against other amiable dramas featuring other such monkish eccentrics.
Our own two oddballs, the sorcerers Prospero (not the one you're thinking of) and Roger Bacon (the one you probably are), are faced with an external sense of dread: some ghostly presence is trying to influence itself on the fictional North and South kingdoms and possibly the rest of Europe, and it's got an eye out for Prospero particularly. The two wizards tramp through a sometimes ghostly landscape of growing fear and suspicion trying to find its source.
There are horrors in this novel, but they are of the more suspenseful and cerebral sort, scary because the well-adjusted (and well-described) characters find them so. There are ghosts, there are trolls, there are phantom villages. Bellairs does a good job of finding the spaces in the mundane into which spectral terrors can fit, which makes them, in spots, actually unnerving. As a balance for this, Prospero and Bacon are such likable, sincere, and genial sorts, never far from a pipe or a pint, ready to expound with humor and pointless erudition, that the reader never really doubts a favorable resolution. The tone is cheerful and unapologetically anachronistic, and if the book is a little episodic, the plot a little ad hoc, it's mostly forgiven.
It's a book for those cluttered sorts of bibliophiles and collectors too. Every likable character has a house full of knicknacks and books, neglected by its owner and lovingly described. If there's a flaw in any of the primary characters (including the villain), it's the tendency to pursue knowledge for its own sake and damn the consequences. Bellairs' qualification to that is probably what got him in the YA
ghetto market from there on out: a good heart can be trusted.
Author: John Bellairs
Title: The Face in the Frost
Genre: fiction, alternate history, fantasy
Friday, January 19, 2007
I hate growing up.
It’s amazing how as children we take our experience at face value, how as we learn the way of things, we fail to perceive that it’s only a single moment we’ve mastered, and that it passes in just about as long as it takes to make sense of the damn thing. New moments come, fast and furious, but most of us are stuck looking through the lenses that we grew in those formative times. We change and adapt, refocus, but not as quickly as the world around us shifts. Meanwhile, the demons of our own making are so exhausting to fight, and they take altogether too long to let us free, that our ability erodes to challenge new presents as they come.
I visit my hometown with some regularity, and while it’s always great to see my family, the rest of the business is increasingly awkward. It’s cliché to point out how the grand things we experience as children grow small and shabby with age, but that’s only a part of it. Every corner of that place is infested with some memory or other, and as places change—things get discarded, homes get bought and sold, people die, organizations restaff themselves, whatever—each instance is like a personal affront to my memory. It’s a bittersweet experience—the recollection is made with fondness, but it comes with the knowledge that it can’t be relived.
The hometown visits are merely discomfiting, though. There is something about regular maintenance of existence that allows perceptions to remain comfortable even while time changes what we perceive. Poignancy still fades, but it doesn’t dissolve as quickly when we keep living in those places.
The past has a soundtrack, even to a guy that got struck only rarely by popular music when he was a kid. Driving around my alma mater recently, I recalled the themes associated with certain routes—music I played, say, on the way to pickup hockey games, or echoing in my head as I stumbled home from the late night bars, or tunes that just happened to be captured in a passing moment, a tiny vignette preserved uniquely in my skull. Listening to those songs can give me a little poke in the brain, reminding me that I’m not there anymore, and, more to the point, that I’m not then anymore either. No more late night games, no more 4AM drunken weekends, no more patience for crappy music. There are new things to do, but there’s an element in doing them that’s running from the moments that I’ve left behind. The more memories you have, the harder it becomes to make new ones.
The past surrounds us like a prison, bars growing like bamboo: sprouting, strengthening, and eventually dying. It grows from the seeds we shed as we pass through the moments and places of our life. We cast about heedless throughout our days, unknowing that the green carpet on which we walk will become a jungle the moment we leave it untended. We hole up in our tiny clearings, fighting the weeds on our few well-beaten routes as the forest closes in about us, or we wander the unknown prairies, leaving stands of fetid verdure behind us like spoor, a lacework of choked-off possibility which can only be recrossed with great difficulty.
Most people, I imagine, reside, like me, between the extremes of holing up and racing forward. I still have quite a lot of living I want to do, after all. Eventually though, we either paint ourselves in, cornered by no good new reality, or else the undergrowth gets the best of us as we run out the will needed to tamp it down and establish new realities. And let’s face it, when we can’t occupy the present anymore is when it all ends for us, no matter how long we may continue to breathe. If we lived long enough to forget things entirely, then I imagine it would be possible to stake out a perpetual route through the maze we generate. Otherwise, however, you’re stuck: if you’re of the right mindset, you can enjoy watching the grass grow, or maybe you’d prefer to blur time’s passage in a bottled haze, or maybe you labor to stay one step ahead of the clock.
But the fucker gets us all in the end.
Gotta get those social and economical thoughts out of my head. Don't want to get a reputation for a serious political type or anything.
1. Big sigh everybody, more about housing.
Like it or not, new home construction is, if not a key economic indicator, an oft-cited one. New home construction is up, the economy is saved! Now it's down, and we're all sinking with it. Why is it so important?
The housing market, we're frequently told, is an economic bellweather. From the bottom view, having an economy built on real estate means that people occupy homes and service businesses come to employ people and pay them, and as such, the Starbuckses and Wal-Marts that follow the population also sustain them. It seems a little like a perpetuum mobile, complete with corporate demons, but value really is being created. It's generated in developing the real estate from idle fields into valuable homes, and it's generated in moving those services near to them. The problem is, there is only so much real estate, and only so many people to occupy it.
New home construction, to my mind, is one of those easy-to-identify bubble quantities. Yes, the population changes (grows, natch), as does the fraction of it that rents, or the number of people per home, or even the number of houses that people own, but there are still some hard limits to the number of homes that can be sustained, correlated to the actual number of people. Growing an economy on real estate seems to work by picking up the market and moving it somewhere else, again and again ...until there is nowhere else to put new ones. And what a nasty, sterile shithole my kids will be living in then.
Shouldn't we be creating new markets by creating new technology? New services?
unoriginal: I've rediscovered the obvious. Also, it seems every third post of mine is on this subject
2. I've heard this before.
Listening to NPR last week (as I usually do on my inexcusably long commute), I caught a piece in which the U.S. ambassador to Iraq (or possibly it was the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S.) was talking up Bush's bold new surge. Paraphrasing the radio interview from memory:
"What does this surge change on the ground? What will you do differently now?"
"Well, we must reduce violence in the streets if Iraq is to be a soveriegn yada yada blada blah blah..."
"Interesting. And so what are the goals of the surge?" [And NPR has the good interviewers, right?]
All this surge talk sounds awfully familiar to me. If you've worked in a company with sufficient turnover in management, you've heard it too. Once or twice a year, the newer leaders prove their meddle by organizing some kind of corporate initiave, and whether it's for "excellence," or "super value," or "world class organization," or some similar pleasing-sounding but meaningless bullshit, it's first greeted with great fanfare, causes a few extra meetings for a while, and then it's clean forgotten in about five weeks. The initiatives result in precisely zero lasting change in anything, and us working stiffs learn to ignore them after the first few iterations. (Maybe the company's going under because we just don’t believe hard enough.)
Your MBA president, everyone.
unoriginal: I got excited and posted this last week as a comment on the lovely hipparchia's blog.
3. Ten bucks an hour to do what?
Don't tell them there's a war on or anything, but our daring Democratic congress made it an agenda item in their first hundred hours to raise the minimum wage. (Did they get it through? I meant to write this two weeks ago.) Long live the donkey, the poor are saved!
I'm pretty ambivalent about the minimum wage. I'm not too happy about people being underpaid, mind you, and empathize with anyone who's in the unenviable position of trying to subsist on one. The problem that I have with it, is that some jobs aren't made for subsistence. Johnny Q. McDipshit should be able to work after school peddling gas or sweeping warehouses for beer money, and not bankrupt his employers while doing so. Mrs. Kathleen O'Frazzled should be able to make a few bucks on the side as she hides from her children a couple times a week. The problem with minimum wage jobs (assuming the liberal anecdote is true) is that people rely on them to live. Maybe that low unemployment is thanks to the greeters at those new suburban Wal-Marts, or the foam wiper at the shiny new Starbucks. Is our economy ever fucked, or what?
In any case, in a head-slapping moment, I realized that the minimum wage is about redistribution. That's a loaded word of course, but it's not like we don't have our share of upward redistribution. The minimum wage is designed to make employers spread out more in wages than to shareholders or CEO bonuses or lobbyists or graft. It's to compensate rampant inequality. But I doubt it actually works much. Not only do I think it targets the wrong employers, but if you're in a position where an extra buck an hour can save you, you've still got it pretty rough.
unoriginal: I've rediscovered the obvious again.
4. Another head-slapper
So I was assigned a little light reading a couple weeks ago about the U.S. health care system. When confronted with gigantic problems like that, it's my inclination to try and reduce them to the clearest possible representation that I can get to without actually doing any actual research (ahem). One important question among many: can the government administer medical insurance effectively enough and responsibly enough for a single-payer system to be effective. Though I'm as distrustful of government as anyone, I can't help but note that even if other countries aren't quite as stratospherically super-dee-duper in their top-tier medical technology, then they still look like they're getting more care for their euro or their loonie. Would we be better off with Medicare?
Believe it or not, Medicare is less expensive to administer. One serious detractor was only able to come to the conclusion that the difference, while extant, wasn't as big as advertised, and that was by taking care to include the either sort of provider's administrative costs. Medicare does something that the private companies don't, however, which is include anyone. In fact it insures a segment of society that is far more likely to be sick. What does private insurance have that Medicare doesn't? Well, I'm pretty sure they hire more actuaries. Those extra costs are to find ways of not paying insurance.
(But I am not at all certain that Medicaid works.)
unoriginal: hipparchia got this one out of me too
5. Fuck the po-lice
It's that time of year again:
"Mr. Resident? This is Bubba from the fraternal order of--"
"Don't you want to support the po--"
"I don't take phone solicitations."
"But this isn't a solicitation." [Which, parenthetically, is of those statements that categorically can't be true when it passes someone's lips.] "If you pay just fifteen dollars, you'll get a sticker that--"
"Fuck you. Goodbye."
Even the hardcore libertarians (I'm a softcore one, I guess) agree that internal justice and security are legitimate functions of the state. And it's not that I don't support the cops in principle, or even that I object to policemen's charities. The problem is the damn sticker. For one thing, I don't think it's going to get me anywhere if I'm stopped doing 80 along the backroads, but more to the point, I oppose it on principle. Those strong hints are to suggest that the cops are going to give me (or beningly neglect some) extra cop service for supporting them with their goddamn decal. That's crossing the line from a civic service to a protection racket.
(Don't forget to ask me about red light cameras.)
unoriginal: These are my words, but I'm pretty sure I read a similar rant ten years ago on another forum. I'm annoyed enough to regurgitate it.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
[1/19: added commentary to the end]
[1/20: cleaned this entry up a little.]
We met maybe a dozen times over the semester break. Each session would begin with lighting the fire, and a lot of times Ish would put some water or trinkets in a bowl next to it, or even throw the offering right in. Sometimes he'd also make some marks on the floor, in chalk or in powder, in stylized squiggles like the wire twists Makaya and I wear at our necks. Usually, he'd do the invocation in that deep voice of his too, and when the chanting starts, my mind drifts. I just do my best to look serious.
The ritual part is harmless, I think, just something to put up with until the music starts. Makaya may have been right about the beginner, but I don't like to call it luck. I'm good at this after all. And I can't get enough of that drumming. I can't wait for it to open me up like that again.
During those weeks, Ish showed us a new variation on the skins each lesson. He got through maybe a dozen of them, different cadences on a handful of different drums, played with sticks or with his hands. When Makaya knew the moves to go with the pattern, she showed them to me, and other times she relayed instructions from Ish, and still others the old man did another miracle stretch and got his groove on for a couple of beats.
Each rhythm has a name too, but it's harder to remember them than it is to stay alert to the feeling each one invokes. And some of them seem familiar. I recognized one of of the dances as a mambo, and Ish laughed at me when I told him that. The beats themselves tend to be complicated, although sometimes they greet you like a forgotten mate, and it's easy to hit it off. Others try to intimidate you like a clumsy jealous boyfriend, or a schoolyard bully. I'd be lying if I told you it's easy to channel these sorts of tunes through my body, and I have to reach awfully deep to pull some of those feelings out. But in the end, you treat the music like a woman and you'll be OK. Just keep listening until the mechanics of empathy become the genuine thing.
I think the system works because it's free-flowing and inspirational, a nice counterpart to the formal instruction we deal with at the usual practices. But I think these spirits have infected our company too. I mentioned that Makaya and I get paired up a lot more, and more often for the freestyle dances, which is one thing, but a lot of the other kids are asking to do the free forms now. That bluesy number? The instructors were asked find the best students to perform at some kind of religious festival, and only a handful of us made the cut. Makaya and I of course. Wendy will be there. Gary won't.
I've actually danced together with Makaya less at the extracurricular practices with Ish, even though we're the only two students there. And when we do dance together, it's not always natural. She's tuned for different rhythms than I am.
There have been exceptions--Ish has taught us a couple of partner dances. One dark afternoon we met in the barn again over a lit fire and a squiggly cross dusted in white on the concrete floor. I didn't know what to expect, as Ish had an unusually solemn expression as he laid out the bowl. He muttered something to Makaya, and she told me, "you know anybody sick? Dead?"
"How would I know them if they're dead?"
"Dis serious, Fred."
I did my best.
Ish got his sticks, and laid a new one out on the pads. This beat sounded to me like water dripping. I could sense the rainstorm in the distant background as he built up little rills that accumulated and then splashed to the ground. Sometimes in rapid succession. This one Makaya already knew, and she surprised me.
"It's like sex," she said, seriously.
I looked at the unusually solemn Ish, who stopped drumming long enough to mutter a few words. It took him about half an hour.
"Usually you do it alone," she said, and now she did blush. "Ish says bot' of us today."
I reached for my shirt.
"Stop dat! You lissen. You see."
Ish returned to his drumming, pushing those liquid surges forward like a reluctant pulse, a decrepit heart lurching clots of jellied blood through forgotten veins. It didn't grab me like some of the pieces, but it held my concentration. Makaya did not have her eyes open, but she lurched toward me, and pushed her hips against mine. On the next beat, I grabbed her cold arms. The dance continued like this, and we thrust and grabbed and staggered around in a parody of intercourse. Usually my arousal is an academic thing during the act of dancing (no matter how close it may be the rest of the time), but in this mimic of sex, I may as well have been a eunuch.
As he drums, Ish often throws in one of those breaks that seem to deepen the shadows in anticipation. I'm glad he didn't for this one. Intimacy would not been welcome in those circumstances, and afterward Makaya nearly broke down, so I held her. I asked if she saw the dead person she knew, but she only grabbed me tighter. My father didn't make himself known, so maybe he's still breathing out there somewhere.
Spring crept in as it normally does to these parts, shooting tentative bits of green amid the lingering dirty frost. We lost our barn to vandals, and set up something out in the open for the warmer days, in a further field, on a bare patch of earth near the trees.
Ish seemed to know about the damage before it happened, as he was holding a shovel when I picked him up, and we had to put it awkwardly between the seats as we drove, and it clattered against his cane. We didn't dance that evening, but the other two watched as I dug a hole and tramped around the tress to find some suitable deadwood. The new pole doesn't even support anything. Since then, Ish's drums and potions have made a permanent home in the cluttered back of my little car.
Our recital came and went, and I snoozed my way through a waltz with clumsy Emma, and did a hip-hop solo. Even a year ago, that sort of showcase would have been exactly the thing to thrill me, but it's hard to digest the painfully dull drum machine tracks they use for those things. I let the precise electronic thuds carry me as best they could.
Our other practices reached the point to where we did multiple dances, and Ish's smile creases got a workout as he worked to develop higher levels of smug. He was proud of us. I could tell another test was coming, much like the first time in the old barn. I could anticipate it like one of the kases in the drum pattern.
"A good day," Ish said from the back seat, in painful English. It was just getting to the middle of spring: pleasant, but not quite the long, warm days we're having now. I expected a chilly afternoon and told him so.
"Yeah." Cryptic as ever.
There was another car parked in the field when we pulled up, and two tall black men were standing next to it, smoking cigarettes. Even though they wore heavy sweatshirts, I could see that they were as thin as Ish, and probably as wiry. They were certainly nowhere near as beautiful as Makaya. I watched to see how they looked at her, but to tell you the truth, they mostly acted bored. I'd often wondered why no one ever bothered us in the open like that, and assumed that Ish knew the owners of the land. Maybe it was these guys. Ish crabbed up to them and clapped their shoulders like they were brothers or sons.
"Dis yo' blan, Ish?" one said, indicating me. He smiled, showing big teeth around the butt.
He looked at me then, and offered me his hand.
They were drummers. I should have guessed, should have thought of the phantom accompaniment that our teacher could sometimes conjure. I wondered if it would be more challenging to find the beat with the extra musicians, but more expected these guys to fill the sounds I knew were missing. After introducing ourselves, I helped them unload their car and mine. The taller of the two, Robert, pushed his hand against the pole I'd erected a couple of weeks before. It only wobbled a little.
Ish busied himself with the fire, but one of the men sat on the ground and began to sketch the symbol on which we'd dance. He spread his legs wide and sprinkled white powder, flour I supposed, from between his palms. The other man, Ti-Jean (which is French, according to Makaya; it sounds like "Tijan"), pulled a well-used corncob pipe from his pocket and laid it in one of the bowls that we'd already placed. Nice guys, but it's a filthy habit.
The five of us and the drums formed an approximate circle around the pole, and Ish, to my surprise, motioned Makaya and me to sit down. He leaned his gnarled cane against the knotty pillar, and limped out to the center of the sketch. He picked up the pipe and looked at it a moment before putting it back in his bowl. Maybe he was thinking about smoking it. He looked at Ti-Jean and Robert and nodded.
As the drumming began, Ish stood up to his full height, what there is of it. He lifted his hands and spoke the usual blessing in his own language. It felt more important this time. The drumbeat was a pounding four beats--it sounded like a pep band almost, feet banging on bleachers. Bam bam bam be-bam. The simple sound of it filled the clearing and seemed to make it close, in the way that Ish's own drumming often does. The fire felt hot, and although it was still light, I could sense all of the shadows in the trees just beyond, and they were teeming with the memories of people. Multitudes of them.
Robert started off the pattern, and when Ti-Jean came in after a few moments, he didn't add much, just stressed the double beat at the end. Ish limped in time, pacing a circle and keeping his bad foot near the ground almost like a samba. As the beat got fuller, he started placing the foot surely, but still keeping the feeling of a gimp, like he was copying himself badly. He swung his arms in great sideways sweeps, and giving up on the shamble altogether, he hopped and stomped and sang unintelligibly.
It's hard to say how long he kept at it, because I know got lost in the sound and motion for a little while. It was darker, but that doesn't mean very much when the drums start. I looked at Makaya, but discovered that she'd become far away from me. She looked back across a dozen shadowy faces and her eyes reflected the fire. She was standing up. I breathed deeply, and closed my eyes for a moment to better feel the sound. There was whispering in my ears.
The beat had developed into something more complicated. The one drum still was keeping something like the drumline march, but Ti-Jean had added a lot of new context. His beat was moving beyond my ability to count, so as I gave up on the thinking and did my best to just feel it. A clank of stick on metal was coming from the other side of the ring, which must have been Ish. He had sat down and started drumming again. I opened my eyes to look at him, but instead found that I could not take my eyes off the fire. It had grown bigger and Makaya was dancing in front of it, in silhouette.
I'd seen it before, of course, during practice and even with Gary. But she was in rare form by any standards. She'd tied a red scarf around each arm, and she floated them over her head, mimicking the action of the flames. She made two little steps forward before turning and shimmying her hips, over and over. Like the flames, she appeared taller. Tall and grave.
The drums were shifting again. I didn't hear the tinkle of the cowbell anymore, and the drummers were pushing for a three feel, one that I recognized as the Makaya. She gained energy from this, and as the rhythm came into it's own, Makaya leapt and spun with abandon, pure passion, and even I could feel what was coming up. One break, and the fire flared behind her. Makaya rocked back in the heat as if she were taking a blow, and then she rolled back her flow as the drums returned. Her faced looked quizzical, and not a little suspicious. A second drum break now, a second kase and when it hit, she stopped moving entirely. The drumming, which had been getting quite loud, quickly collapsed to a background buzz.
"Ki moun ki Ia? Kisa ou vIe?" she said in a deep voice. I was surprised that I understood her. She crossed her arms and scowled imperiously down at the shadowy crowd at the edge of the ring.
"Kote Freda blan se?"
I felt a wind at my back as she said this. As though she felt it too, Makaya's head swung in my direction, and she glared down at me. I won't lie to you, I was a little afraid, but I stood up anyway.
Makaya stood there looking at me like as though I was a complete idiot, as if I weren't even worthy to know her expectations, never mind try to meet them. But then her lips curled and she looked to where the drum sounds were still coming from. "Kounye-a!" she ordered.
I swallowed hard as another familiar rhythm began, six beats, soft palms, fast. This one was mine.
Makaya turned her shoulder to me, and lifted her arms as she had before, floating those red scarves in a taunt. She opened her mouth and before she lunged at my chest, baring teeth in a way I'd never seen. I pulled my back from her, keeping time, and thrust my arms forward, pushing at the scarves without touching them. It was a dance you know, not a fight. We were controlled by the drums as much as we controlled out bodies. And it went on: her lunging, me evading and enticing. In my ears, in the back of my mind was a presence, a woman as beautiful as a bird, and whatever language she was speaking, she was trying to be aloof unimpressed. She goaded me, goaded us both, I guess. I felt like she'd been whispering over my shoulder all my life.
The drums were dropping to a background buzz again, but maybe it was just hard to hear them over the rush in my ears. The whispering was growing to a howl. My friend was coming--I waited for the kase as the world faded to white.
It was quiet when I noticed the clearing again. Robert and Ti-Jean were packing up. Ish was standing next to the pole, as bent as ever, but grinning big. It was getting late, but it was still light, lighter than it had been in fact.
Makaya was sitting on the ground with me, back-to-back. I twisted around and patted her arm.
I patted my own arm. I was doing all right too. Feeling damn good, in fact. I leapt up, and then helped Makaya.
"What do you remember," I asked.
"Less den you."
I looked at Ish. "What did she want?"
The old man just did his puzzled happy bit. Obviously he wasn't upset about how it all went down.
"Same time again on Monday?"
Ish drove back with the two drummers, and I was kind of glad to have Makaya to myself for a few minutes as my rusty old car bounced over the ruts in the field. Like I said, we have a lot to sort out between us, but there's no hurry. Graduation is looming big right now, and after that, who knows. In the meantime, we've got this religious festival to look forward to. And whatever else happens, I'll always know that I was good enough to dance the Makaya. Hopefully it's not just once.
"What I learned"
Okay, some commentary. As I mentioned to rundeep in a comment, the idea for this story came about as I was dozing through one of my younger daughter's dance recitals. (She's since lost interest, and at those prices, we're not pushing it.) In it was a young boy dancer, maybe seven or eight, who looked like he was hot shit. I briefly envied him.
But that was a character, not a story, and so I thought the whole supernatural thing would be a nice way to flesh it out. And so the narrator, Fred, was made to stumble into a society of remarkably effective Voudon (Haitian creole has no real spelling convention that I can tell, but writing "Voodoo" seems insensitive) through his dance troupe. I took some liberties, especially with the ceremonies, but I kept to the facts as much as it suited me to.
The Voudon religion is a hodgepodge of African (and for stealth purposes, Western) religions, brought forcibly to the new world. It also seems to be full of plotless characters. There are few famous stories that I can tell, relying instead on this on-the-fly possession. It's basically ancestor worhip, with certain families of ancestors so notable that they've achieved angelic status. Lwa, they're called. Believe it or not, I had my own characters fleshed out well enough, and found sympathetic Lwa for Fred and Makaya after I'd already sketched the kids out. Then I loaded on the metaphors and gave them some appropriate symbols. I got lucky with the girl; Fred took some digging. (Ish, I just freely morphed from Papa Legba. His name comes for "Eshu" one of Legba's other names.) In ceremony, the Lwa possess people, summoned by certain rhythms played on various drums. Different Voudon cults have centered around the petro (fire) and rada (air) nations of Lwa, but nowadays it all appears pretty ecumenical. I used those metaphors pretty freely too.
It doesn't seem like such a bad religion. There's no obvious dogma, and since anyone can be ridden by whatever spirit, you can pretty much make up the narrative of it as you go along. It'd save a lot of conflict you'd think, because you can always summon a new Lwa to discount the proclamations of the last one, and conflict isn't exactly something Haiti needs more of.
I did my best to utilize actual rhythms too, including the one they use for samba dancing. (The samba is seen as a hybrid of Caribbean and South American dance. Worked out well enough.) I know I didn't describe them quite so well as I wanted to. You can listen to some sound samples:
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
When you meet Ish, the first thing you notice is how small he is. The second thing you think is that this man can't possibly be a dance instructor. Ish--I don't know his last name--is a wrinkled little black man, with only a few scraggly white hairs whispering their way from the edge of his beaten straw hat. His clothes are patched but not shabby, and all different colors. He's got deep creases in his mouth from smiles, and eyes that look like even though he's seen it all, it still amuses him. He's like the cuddly little grandfather I never had.
Makaya loves him. When we picked him up, she burst out of the car and ran to give him a hug. Even though he can't walk a foot without hunching over the knobby stick that he uses for a cane, when Makaya ran to him, he leapt up and seemed to unhunch himself to grab hold of her. I admit I clenched my teeth at this, but on the other hand, Makaya never looks more like a girl than when we practice with the old man.
There are a lot of moments like that with Ish. Sometimes he takes his shirt off at our practices, and he's got muscles all over him like piano wire, a ropey little guy. He seems to be held together a lot like one of our necklaces. When we practice, he usually just tells us what to do--that is, he drips out a few words to Makaya in that barely intelligible language that they share and then she tells me. But if he really wants to make a point, Ish moves sometimes too. It makes an impression.
So I got out of the car, and he hobbled his way over and looked at me, screwed his old man's eyes right at my chest, looked at the wire heart that Makaya gave me. He pursed his lips and nodded. "Yeah," he said, stretching it out to two syllables. His voice is deep and raspy, but it is also kind. "Breed deep."
I looked at Makaya. "Breathe," she whispered, and I did. Ish put his hand over the charm while I sucked as much air as I could hold. "Yeah," he said.
He looked up at me and smiled, and then, without another word, he turned and hobbled around to my rusty Civic. It must have taken him five minutes to open the door and climb in, but I just stood there and watched him lift the latch and pull his little into the seat. I got in too. What else could I do?
Makaya gave me directions as we drove. She'd been training with Ish on the side for a year, she said. I asked how she knew him, and she muttered something noncommittal about family--maybe she'll tell me more about that some time. Our route took us some twenty minutes out of town, past the new condo construction but not deep into the quiet old farmland. About a three quarters of a mile past the last backhoe, Makaya guided me down a small side street, and to an small, battered barn. As we got out, I had the presence of my mind to offer Ish an elbow (which he refused) as he scrabbled down from the back seat.
The old farms have a lot of buildings like this. I think the football players throw parties in them sometimes. This one looked like it was falling over on itself and the door was cockeyed, but when we walked in, it still felt warm from the low sun on the southwestern wall. The floor was a big concrete slab, and the whole place had been cleared out from floor to roof. Well, almost cleared out. There were rows of wooden boxes on opposite walls, and in the middle, there was a campfire prepared maybe ten feet from the central support beam, and when Ish walked in, he hobbled over and lit it. We don't always practice in the same barn-- we have done it in a self-storage unit in town, and now that it's starting to get warmer, we even do it outside sometimes--but there is always a fire. I love the atmosphere it creates. It makes Makaya's eyes glitter.
Ish muttered something that sounded like "radar," and Makaya ran to one of the boxes to get a drum. I opened my eyes wide at that.
"He can' play all three," Makaya told me, and I had no idea what she meant. Or even quite what she said. Her accent had become thick. "He just play one for now, and see how it goes."
Ish took the drum from Makaya with a beatific smile, and set it behind him, next to the column. From his patched coat, he took out a small flask, and sprinkled it on the fire a couple of times as he walked around it, slowly muttering his O-something-somethings. It was the first time I saw the blessing, and it felt so much like a prayer that I reached for Makaya's hand and bowed my head solemnly.
When he was done, he limped to the pole and lowered himself to the ground, putting the tall drum between his knees. He looked at the floor in front of him and frowned. I walked to the space he indicated, and he started tapping out a pattern on the drum, as if testing it.
The feeling of ceremony and the relative silence of the people who were familiar with it was finally making me uneasy. I half expected snakes to start crawling out of the woodwork (little did I know). "Is this a dance lesson or what?"
Ish looked up at me, "Good," he drawled, apropos of nothing. He pointed me to a different spot on the floor, a little to my left. I could see some footprints in old, scattered white dust, presumably from other students. I looked back at teh old man.
"Good," he said again, "today, we jus' feel," and he started tapping on the drum, a fast little pattern with his palms and fingers.
I looked at Makaya, and I'm sure my disappointment was plain on my face. "You lissen," she said, "and den do what feels right." "Like de zamba," she added and gave her hips an exagerrated shimmy. Well then.
I closed my eyes, and tried to feel the place. The fire was at my back, warming me nearly to the point of discomfort. I could sense Ish in front of me, and behind my closed eyes, he felt old beyond his years, like there were centuries on his shoulders, as if fifty forgotten generations were stepping to the beat he was creating, and the weight of his back against the pole was keeping them all from spilling out. Shocked, I opened my eyes, and though it had become a little darker, it was just an old man in a deserted barn with a drum.
Makaya hissed from behind me. Listen. Right. I focused on Ish's hand flicking shadows on the drum head, and let the sound enter my body and brain. I tapped my hand on my thigh, counting beats. There were too many taps and thuds--more than Ish could possibly be producing, but I was pretty sure it was a six-beat rhythm. As the barn got darker, it felt bigger too, and before long I could sense the a mystery crowd again, behind Ish, and also around us. A barnful of shadows often does that, I've found.
Slapping my hand felt wrong, felt like it was impeding whatever I was meant to hear, so I let it go and it floated away. I listened with my feet too, and there was a wind under them. I knew I was there, but I was whirling above it, buoyed by the drums. I felt wind rushing in my ears, as though someone was shouting, (singing?) trying to get my attention. It--no, she--just needed the break in the beat to get through. I waited for it, I could feel it coming...
And suddenly it stopped. The fire was still warm at my back, and there was Ish, hands paused over the drum head, and a huge grin plastered across his little raisin of a face. "Verry gooood."
"Beginners luck," said Makaya behind me, but when I looked at her, she was smiling too.
"Das' all today," said Ish.
I had to ask them for gas money on the way home.
- Part 3 of 4 (evidently). Obviously, they still need to dance together real soon.
- This was dashed off without edits, and I will clean it when I've got time.
- Need to go back and fix older dialogue and a couple other little inconstencies.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Saturday, January 06, 2007
[Update 1/7: I added a page of text to end this section in a more logical place.]
Outside of performing, I like just talking to Makaya too. Off the floor and outside the studio, she's a shy kid, even serious, and maybe that's the reason no one else pays much attention to her. But still, I don't understand it--she never stops being pretty, and even walking she's got a great snakey body awareness.
And like I said, she's nice to talk to. Nice, but not easy. Talking with Makaya is in some ways like dancing with her, but with a completely different set of rules. She's a quiet girl, but a good listener. If you're someone like me, you need to be careful with the flow of conversation, be smart enough to not let yourself get carried away on yourself, if you know what I mean. With a lot of girls you can fake it, but if you talk to Makaya, you really have to pay attention to her. And the coy way that she has of listening, looking up through those long lashes, that's almost as big a rush as trying to follow her footwork.
After a dance performance, she's usually in an odd state--we all are in our own worlds for a few minutes after--and even I'm wise enough in those circumstances to keep conversation to a minimum until she's her full self again. But the look in her eye after that samba, she looked like she needed someone just then. No woman should be left alone with that look on her face, but there she was, and there was only me. So that's how I asked her: what happened out there?
"I don't know," she said. (She has a great accent, like French almost, but with all the gravelly parts filtered out. I tell her sometimes that she should show it off, and she will usually smile through those long lashes at me. It's worth asking.) "I was gonna ask you why Gary was on the floor." ("On dee floa.")
Now, I don't usually joke with a woman who is needing a calm reassuring hand, but I was coming down from my own performance high. I sensed a little room in any case. Just being there was half the battle. I nudged her. "He's just not a samba guy, I guess."
"I'm serious, Fred!" Big brown eyes and a "zeerious" too. That's why you sometimes have to push a little.
I stepped closer and put my arm on her shoulder. "Don't you remember," I asked quietly, "you grabbed his shirt and pitched him. During the drum intro. Where did that come from, anyway?"
I looked at the pit, but the band had already halfway packed up. The improvisational drummer was nowhere to be seen. I turned back to Makaya, who'd covered her mouth with a slim hand.
"Don't you remember?" I said.
She shook her head in tight little jerks. Her hair, which had been tamed to a small tail behind her neck, wriggled as she did.
"It was a hell of an intro. You were on fire."
She grabbed my arm when I said that, as if I reminded her of something.
"I remember the start of the dance," she said, "and then Gary was on the floor, in the wrong place. He did not dance very well tonight."
She was holding my arm still, but her face had relaxed. She no longer looked alarmed.
"He said...he told me it might happen. With the right rhythm, he said, with my right mind, he would come." She tilted her head at me. "This is a strange spot, though."
"Who said? What?"
She slithered out from beneath my arm, smiling. "Maybe I tell you later."
She certainly didn't tell me anytime soon. Eventually I would meet old Ish, hopping along on his cane, the most unlikely dance instructor you could imagine. But no other man has ever come to me.
It took weeks for Makaya and I to get to the point of talking about it again. The dance company had had light practices for a few, since a lot of us were in high school, and finals were approaching. (There is no "jock's B" for anyone in the company.) I did my best to study with the most distracting partners I could find.
Does that sound horrible? I don't know if Makaya would take me as a boyfriend even if I'd ask. I won't lie to you and say that I think of her as just a friend either, but we have a lot to figure out about each other just yet. In any case, the studying was platonic. Mostly. These girls had been doing most of my homework for a semester, and at this point, I actually needed to learn something in time for the tests.
I got by, passed everything, even if I didn't do it gloriously. I'll spare you the details.
Makaya did much better. She's in a lot of the A.P. classes (I still have no idea how she finds the time), and we didn't see each other too much during finals. Now and then we'd pass each other in the halls, and usually I'd wink, which always bought a smile. One time, I picked her up, books and all, and swung her in a full circle before continuing on my way. I didn't look back, but I could feel that smile.
Dance practice hung around in limbo even as exams wore down. There were no dates for exhibitions anytime soon, and they were throwing around ideas for a possible recital, I think to keep some goals alive for us over the holidays. These recitals are always a drag, attended exclusively by the parents of the younger kids and a handful of creepy enthusiasts. our instructors tell us how we're lucky that dance is coming back, how great it is that we have an audience for ballroom and swing, how horrible it was back when they could still move around and a yearly review was all they worked toward.
I should remember to ask Ish about that. He's three times the age of any of them, and I can't imagine him attending a recital in his life.
So you can imagine then, the level of enthusiasm in the studio at year's end--with the long, dull holidays looming their heads, and only the ghosts of plans for the spring. You could see distraction on every face but Makaya's. And mine, I suppose.
With no schoolwork for a few weeks, and no practice worth a damn to fill the time, it was welcome, after a session of drills and stretches and little else, to see her sashay in my direction.
Now, sometimes we talk in practice, and sometimes we don't, but when we do, it's not usually Makaya that initiates. I could see that she was needing me to supply the opening. I did my best.
She didn't reply to me, but her look was inquisitive. I felt that I was on the right track.
"It's going to be pretty dull here, for a few weeks, isn't it?"
I should point out that I still have no idea what Makaya's family is like. I think she lives with a bunch of cousins or something, but I've never heard her talk about any of them. I suppose I'm not much better. My mother and I are amicably biding our time till the moment I graduate and move out. I felt it would be a long holiday for the both of us.
"Do you have plans," I asked.
"Shhh." Makaya raised a finger to her lips. "I have something for you, Fred. Maybe we see how it fits first."
She was holding something in her other hand. I came in behind her shoulder, and followed her gaze as she opened it up. Brown fingers bloomed to reveal a necklace, a piece ot twisted wire on a soft blue string. She held it up and turned to me, dipping her head. Her hair was loose and full, and smelled cleanly of violets.
I let the wire charm settle into my palm, and brought it close to my face to study it. Most of it was twisted into a heart, which was filled in a crosshatch pattern, maybe with a piece of window screen. There were some curlicues that floated off of it like wings, and it rested in a little diamond-shaped frame. I like jewelry pretty well, but this peasant craftsman thing is not my usual style. It was simple, but beautiful. It was small, but it felt like it filled my hand. I slipped it on over my neck, and lifted the charm again to look at it. I'm wearing it now.
"It looks a little like yours," I said.
Makaya pressed her hand to her chest, hiding the small stylized cross that hung there. "It is not the same," she said. She looked scandalized, but also a little pleased.
I chose to accept the pleasure. "Thank you. It's lovely."
She put her arm on my shoulder and stepped back to regard me, the gray twist of wire and its blue cord standing out against my white shirt.
"So? Does it fit," I asked.
Makaya didn't answer. I tried to continue the conversation. Even though I did know my dance well enough, I took the tack I'd been using throughout finals.
"I don’t know how I'm going to get through these next few weeks," I said, looking at her meaningfully. "I'm afraid I'm going to fall out of practice. What I really need is some extra training outside of..."
Internally, I winced--this sounded pretty amateur to my ears, but Makaya cocked her head at me with interest. Foolishly or brilliantly, I went on.
"...outside of the usual program. I was thinking that maybe you and I could..."
"Maybe it does," Makaya said.
"I think Ish may be right." Long lashes. "It looks good on you."
"It does? Who's Ish?"
Makaya's eyes flashed red. "Do you really want to practice more, or just want to see me more?"
Both, I thought. I faked my best innocent smile. "I can't think of anyone I'd rather practice with."
"Can you be here tomorrow to pick me up?"
- Part two of three or four.
- I took the excellent suggestion for a title change.
Friday, January 05, 2007
After some tens of months of trying to get her to read on her own, I've relented and finally started reading every night to my older daughter again. It's nice to see her engaged, but I didn't quite realize how much I was enjoying it until tonight, as she begins the weekend at a girl scout retreat. Damn. I'm kind of bummed.
As you will find out very soon, I'm reading The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett to her, which happens to be about a nine-year-old girl with excellent perception and judgement. (I'm reading it to the five-year-old too, but that one is far less interested.) I found this one after quite a bit of research--junior is exceptionally picky--and I am scratching my head about what to do in a week or two.
Not much point to this post, just fishing for what to do next. She liked Charlie last year and Milo the year before, but has been otherwise hard to please. Black Beauty? Not so much a horse girl. Narnia? Bounced off of it. Alice? That too--drove me (more) nuts. We're finally on a roll again, and I hate it to stop it after one book. She likes Shel Silverstein too (hi LS), but that's one of the few things she prefers to read herself.
Let me know if you have recommendations.