Saturday, July 14, 2018

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren, #29

Being right feels good for 15 minutes.

(Me and the hubby - learning to survive together)

You get into an argument with your wife, husband, partner or employer about something relatively simple. It starts out calm with logic examples, corrections, polite tone of voice. But at some point, when neither of you are willing to back down, compromise, admit your wrong or simply agree to disagree, the argument escalates to shouting, name-calling, and ugly, graphic itemizations of every perceived  wrong that ever occurred between the two of you. 

You are right, and you know you are, and you’re not going to back down. It’s a matter of principle. You need to stand up for yourself, to take a stand. 

But what happens after doors are slammed, tears are shed, and silence laced with “I’ll show you,” or “we’re done” cast a black shadow over the heart of your relationship, rendering the original point irrelevant, and sometimes even forgotten.  Words are said that can never be unsaid. The hurt damages a place in our heart that is irreparable. Regret, resentment, confusion, anger, hate or fear threaten to displace love, acceptance, forgiveness, and compromise, creating a nauseating disorientation of your relationship.  The damage is done, and undoing the damage may be impossible. Relationships may dissolve into codependent resentment and desperate attempts to reclaim respect and love. Love relationships and marriages end causing heartbreak that impacts many people. Rock-solid friendships you thought were permanent dissolve with a whimper. You are fired from your job causing terrible hardships on you and your family, possibly damaging your ability to get another job.

So, before you get into an emotional battle with someone, take a nano-second to assess the worth of standing your ground (pick your battles VERY carefully). I’m not talking about saying you’re wrong when you know you are right. I’m talking about walking away, agreeing to disagree, compromising, or trying to resolve the conflict under less emotional terms. 

Being right feels good for 15 minutes, while the damage inflicted can last a lifetime. 

Cluster Critiques

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Romy Hall, main character and narrator of The Mars Room is a 29-year-old drug addict and lap dancer at the skanky San Francisco Mars Room strip club. She has lost custody of her son and is serving two life sentences in prison for killing a man.  I felt so disoriented by Romy’s narration of her sordid life, until in chapter 23 she says something along the lines of: 
“When you’re a kid you eat whatever you can find, your mom’s a junkie with a boyfriend who sexually abuses you, there’s nobody around to make you go to school so you drop out and start prostituting and doing drugs until you get caught and go to prison, then you get out, get caught again and go back, but that’s OK because that’s the culture you live in, it’s normal for us, expected.” 
Suddenly it all made sense. People who live what feels like a gutter-level Greek tragedy, live that way because it is their “normal.”

The Mars Room is a work of fiction as is Romy Hall, but author Rachel Kushner’s writing felt so authentic I had to keep reminding myself The Mars Room wasn’t an autobiography and Romy doesn’t really exist.The story ping-pongs back and forth between Romy and her prison mates’ disaster-movie lives that predestined them for prison, and their similarly grim lives behind bars. I felt like a rubbernecker at a roadside wreck with a morbid inability to look away, wanting to rub my own nose in the horror of Romy’s life to appreciate the thin line that separates her existance from mine.  

And then, when Romy said things like, 
“At the Mars Room if you’d showered you had a competitive edge. If your tattoos weren’t misspelled you were hot property. If you weren’t five or six months pregnant, you were the it-girl in the club that night,” 
I sort of illogically swooned from the richness of Kushner's imagery. 

Read The Mars Room.

Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty

After reading about the making of the movie Caddyshack, I’m surprised they didn’t name it “Clusterfuck.” Caddyshack (the movie) is a secret guilty pleasure of mine because it requires no mental heavy-lifting, while providing classic comic bits by Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase.  The book is full of gossipy tidbits about the personalities and relationships of most of the players. 

Dangerfield’s part in the movie was originally small until his outrageous ad-libs won him more celluloid. There was a hot feud between Chevy Chase, who’d recently hit it big and left Saturday Night Live, and Bill Murray, still at SNL and extremely resentful of Chase’s success. Chase and Murray only showed up when they felt like it, creating frustration for everyone involved in the film. 

The brains behind the movie (if one can imagine any were) was Murray’s brother Brian. And the whole mess was fueled by the ubiquitous drugs of that time-period (late 1970s). Not unlike the movie this book is mostly junior high-level entertainment (fun).

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

I waited patiently for this book to go somewhere, and maybe it did for some, but  for me it felt like I boarded the wrong plane and was stuck sitting on a lifeless literary tarmac. A family acquires a beautiful ocean-front property on a long-ago paid off bet, and converges in summer over several generations to share their life’s disappointments. 

I’m fully stocked up on my own personal family drama and have little patience for people whining about first world problems. Sullivan can write, but her characters didn’t inspire me, unless you call wanting to throw the book across the room inspiration. Meh...

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

In 1969 Brooklyn, four siblings ages of 7 to13, hear of a gypsy woman who can tell you the exact date of your death. So, they gather up their nickels and dimes and go see the gypsy, who one by one seals each child’s fate – or one might think. 

Benjamin’s book, which has generated a lot of discussion in the literary community, follows each of the siblings over 50 years as their lives play out under the glare of a date-certain death sentence. 

Although the descriptions of their lives’ might not look that different than say a typical family saga, it is told within the context of something the characters in the story know but we do not, the date each character will die. It is this underlying theme that makes all the difference.  We anguish over the characters’ every decision, and it is this dynamic that makes The Immortalists interesting and worth our time.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Justice should be absolute, simple, cut and dried. But, like life, or just about anything, nothing is as absolute or simple as it should be. I’ve been binge-watching true-crime on TV at night, and one thing I have learned is that criminal justice is much more complicated than it seems on the surface– even with a confession, even with witnesses. Like an iceberg, you can only see 10%. The other 90% is below the surface.

Author Bryan Stevenson has made it his life’s mission to bring due process, and perhaps justice and mercy to individuals languishing destitute on death row. The bulk of Just Mercyis about a man convicted of murder and sentenced to death despite multiple witnesses confirming his presence at a church fundraiser during the established time of the murder. And though that profile is truly sympathetic, not all the people Stevenson represents are, but rather are the victims of poor representation in court. Stevenson’s goal is to level the justice playing field, which is rocky on the end where the poor end up, and smooth on the end where those with resources briefly land.  This plea for public awareness of injustice isn’t a hammer, it’s a soft, humbling, spiritual song, and one I will not soon forget.  

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

Some of you may know author Michael Connelly from the Mathew McConaughey movie “Lincoln Lawyer” in which McConaughey plays lawyer Matthew Haller, half-brother of Michael Connelly’s other favorite character, the main character of this book, Detective Harry Bosch. 

Bosch is one of those hard-nosed detectives always at odds with his police department, as is the case in Two Kinds of Truth, which nimbly juxtapositions two story lines: Bosch going undercover to expose an opioid drug ring, all the while fighting off an old foe in prison for murder, now filing a lawsuit again Bosch claiming he planted evidence resulting in a false conviction. 

Connelly doesn’t really write a bad book, and is a pretty reliable read in the crime novel genre, but this one was one of his best (of 36).     

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú

I’m a perspective fanatic, so I was immediately attracted to the idea of a book written by a US Border Patrol agent (especially in light of recent immigration issues). What does immigration enforcement look like from the perspective of a Border Patrol agent on the front lines? What do they see? How do they feel? 

Author Francisco Cantú is a third-generation Mexican America, raised in Arizona by his National Parks Ranger mother. The same intellectual gene that drives Cantú’s mother’s environmental ambitions, drives Francisco to study illegal (as opposed to legal) Mexican immigration close-up – to become a Border Patrol agent. His mother struggles to understand why her son would stray into enforcement of a law that under a different set of circumstances might have deprived his own family residence in the US. Soon enough, unable to rationalize a system so punishing of the crime of breaching a border seeking a better life, Cantú drops out of the Border Patrol and returns to school, feeling not angry, but rather confused. Eventually, simply by coincidence, he becomes involved in trying to help a friend who has lived illegally in the US for decades, but who is unable to return to the US after going to Mexico to tend to his dying mother.   

The Line Becomes a River provides perspective, and a relatively unemotional inspection of the issue of illegal Mexican immigration. Francisco Cantú writes well, seemingly without a specific agenda - to simply tell the story of his odyssey through the miasma of Mexican immigration.

What I’m Reading

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird

"Here's the first thing you need to know about Miss Cathy Williams: I am the daughter of a daughter of queen and my mama never let me forget it." 

Available Sept. 2018     BookPeople     Kirkus Review 

God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

A Long Way from Home by Peter Carey

The Pisces: A Novel by Melissa Broder       

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

King Zeno: A Novel by Nathaniel Rich

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Cluster Critiques

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Issacson

If Leonardo da Vinci had been a baby-boomer, he would have been picked “most popular,” “most handsome,” and “best dressed” in high school, then showed up at his 25thclass reunion dressed in a purple suit with his young, beautiful, blond wife named James. 

Leonardo’s long-time apprentice and boyfriend’s name was actually Giacomo, which roughly translates from Italian as James, but that doesn't really matter. What is important about Leonardo de Vince (the man, not the book) is that he was uncompromising, and he bridged art and science, much like another Italian polymath with whom I'm infatuated, Galileo Galilei, who brilliantly, and at great risk, managed to span science and religion. 

What is important, about Leonardo de Vinci (the book) is that Walter Issacson, a lauded documentarian of hyper-visionary super men like Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, twines vague marginalia, scattered references and exquisite drawings into a page-flipping story about an irresistibly cool guy.

For example,  Leonardo was worshipped as an artist, but he rarely if ever completed a commissioned piece of art. He worked on the Mona Lisa for 16 years and never considered it finished. Also, he was a master at drawing and painting the human anatomy because he dissected humans (sometimes even when they still alive) to study muscles, inside out and moving. And despite all this, he somehow managed to live a relatively luxurious, unimpeded lifestyle, whiling away his hours (even years) simply observing and wondering about things like the flow of water and clouds. 

I had to tamp down my jealousy of de Vinci’s capacity to live life on his own terms, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this book. Even my hubby, who tilts more towards Stephen King and Michael Connelly, loved Leonardo de Vinci, and I believe you will too.

The Moleskin Mystery by Anonymous (Turk Pipkin)

A writer, an actor, a juggler and a philanthropist walk into a bar. His name is Turk Pipkin.

It seems talented people possess or have a special capacity to build multiple talents and skills, while the rest of us struggle to simply survive. Turk Pipkin the not so anonymous author of The Moleskin Mystery is one of those people, but this isn’t about Turk, so I’ll move on.

The story begins when a guy walks into a New Orleans bar the time of day when only a few lost souls and vampires perch. As he climbs onto a bar stool, so obviously weighed down by some melancholia yet undisclosed, he is beckoned by a mysterious pocket-size, mole-skin-covered journal sitting in front of him on the bar. As if by destiny, he picks up the journal and begins adding his chapters of lost love and self-discovery. 

What starts out as obtuse yet clever Kerouac/Burroughs-ish navel-gazing soon takes shape as a nourishing story set in romantic, steamy New Orleans. What’s the mystery? The characters are. The finder of the journal is a mystery. Who is he? Where’d he come from? His love interest, Emilia, is a mystery. Who is she really? What happens to her? And what about Marvin, the oracular seer who speaks in riddles and seems to live in the bar where "nobody knows your name"? 

Of course good writing is important, but for me, enjoyable literature is even more so about complex characters I can have feelings for – love hate, sympathy, empathy, curiosity, whatever. Otherwise they are just an irritating distraction. In Moleskin, it isn't the quantity of what Pipkin tells us about the characters - that's the mystery element of his book. It is the quality of what he tells us that makes The Moleskin Mystery part fairy-tale, part fable, and 100% charming.

Red Notice: A True Story by Bill Browder

Eventually tiring of college binge-drinking and womanizing, the rebellious main character of Red Notice decides to drive a stake into the heart of his communist-leaning family tree by getting an MBA from Stamford and becoming a ruthless capitalist, in Russia, which had only recently realigned from a communist dictatorship to a capitalist order!  Ha! That’ll show ‘em! 

With a keen eye for opportunity, a mathematician’s mind and more than a little luck, our protagonist quickly rises to the top of the financial world in a sequence of Russian investment scenarios so exciting and intriguing, and which afforded him a lifestyle so enviable, I couldn’t wait to get to the next chapter!  But the powerful Russian oligarchy - the Mafioso-like families who took over most of the businesses previously run by the Russian state -  didn’t like the idea of someone other than them, especially an American, making millions of dollars off the growing pains of their country’s privatization transition.

Being the rebel he is, however, instead of taking the hint that he’s not wanted in Russia, our American rebel sticks out his chin, eventually losing everything when he denied reentry into Russia and his assets are seized, his lawyer is taken prisoner, tortured and killed in a new Russian Gulag, all his Russian allies end up similarly suspiciously dead, and his and his family’s lives are threatened. But our rebel doesn’t give in, he continues his fight in America, and although it takes years and a relentless campaign, he ends up convincing US Congress to pass a law imposing sanctions against Russia.

Did you happen to notice the "A True Story" in the book title? Yep, author Bill Browder is the rebel and protagonist of this book.

Red Notice had me from beginning to end, but for reasons I probably don’t want to acknowledge, when Bill Browder went from brilliantly conniving to capitalize on investment opportunities in Russia, to avenging his lawyers murder, his story started to feel more along the line of his rebellion against his family (I’ll show you) than about altruism. Although some will disagree, I was never convinced that he cared about the people who died trying to defend him. It just felt like revenge, and that made the final 1/3 of the book seem less authentic.  

Read it? Sure. It’s an intriguing glimpse into the mechanics of a country’s infrastructure transition from communist to capitalist Russia, and a glimpse into predatory capitalism that knows allegiance to no country. 

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren, #28

Don’t take pictures or videos of yourself or anyone else naked, and if you do, make sure you’re the only person who has copies, and then burn them.

OK, I know this is a weird and possibly questionable lesson, but kids are going to explore their sexuality and being in denial doesn’t change that. My kids, assuming they even read my blog, are probably thinking, “Mom, I’m forty-something years old. I don’t even like pictures of myself in a bathing suit.” And most of my grandkids, assuming they read my blog – or might read it someday, are probably thinking, “Ewwweeeeww!”) But, the day will come when they will be tempted, as taking nude photos or videos of yourself having sex are almost a universal rite of passage.

Here are the reasons why you want to be smart enough not to fall into that trap: 

  1. You’re not going to look as good nude as you think. It is better to live in the delusion that you look better than you do.
  2. The relationship associated with the photos/video may not last. Most people go through several relationships and even marriages, and you can’t know for sure you’ll end up spending your entire life with your partner in the photos/video (although in the  euphoria of love or lust you’ll probably find this impossible to believe).  
  3. If you ever decide to become an actor/celebrity, politician or Dallas cowboy cheerleader, those pictures/video will threateningly surface. 
So, if you decide you just must take nude photos or a sexual video, just do yourself one huge, smart favor. Look at them then burn them.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Best Books Read in 2017

What I’m Reading:

Among Heroes by Brandon Tyler Webb and John David Mann

Artemis by Andy Weir     
Esther’s Follies: The Laughs, The Gossip and the Story Behind Texas’ Most Celebrated Comedy Troupe by Jesse Sublett

Best American Food Writing 2017

Leonardo da vinci by Walter Isaacson

Magpie Murders: A Novel by Anthony Horowitz    
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

The Moleskin Mystery by Anonymous (Turk Pipkin)

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Best American Science and Nature Writing 2017

Best American Sports Writing 2017 

The Tao of Willie by Willie Nelson with Turk Pipkin

Train to Crystal City, The: FCR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II by Jan Jarboe Russell

Best American Travel Writing 2017 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cluster Critiques

Delbert McClinton – One of the Fortunate Few by Diana Finlay Hendricks

“(Delbert) has the advantage of never having ‘made it’ so to speak. Roy Orbison said he felt like he was dragging this legend around. Elton John hated playing a new song because he knew everyone would leave to go to the bathroom.
Delbert’s audience doesn’t believe he is only as good as his last hit.”
T Bone Burnett (paraphrased)

I’m standing in the middle of the dance floor of Soap Creek Saloon, March 1979. Delbert McClinton is on the stage, and although the dancers and music are swirling around me, I’m in a quiet, still bubble – frozen in an existential connection with something that might be genetic imprinting. I’d never heard anything like Delbert McClinton, and never would again.

In Delbert McClinton – One of the Fortunate Few, Diana Finlay Hendricks tells McClinton’s life-story (so far) with a soulful rhythm (not unlike McClinton’s music), keeping it off the too-typical biographical treadmill of “he did this, then he did that, then that” - a testament to her journalistic and writing skills, and maybe to the character of Delbert McClinton. The narrative flows smoothly around truly interesting characters and milestones, like when as a child, Delbert heard 'Honey Hush' by Big Joe Turner, and instantly knew his life dream was to become a musician/singer and play that kind of music.

Of course, there’s plenty of back story, including McClinton being one of the many famous musicians born in Lubbock; the history of the “shady” side of Fort Worth, which incubated Delbert’s ambitions and skills; and fascinating radio and music label history and characters. There’s plenty of family drama too: multiple marriages and kids, serial infidelity and drug use, and an eventual “jackpot” marriage to the woman who “straightened” Delbert out (maybe because he was too old and tired not to straighten out). And there’s no shortage of sham record deals, shyster music executives, and bankrupt labels. There’s even the juicy story of Delbert’s involvement in the famous Fort Worth, T. Cullen Davis/Priscilla Davis murder scandal.

Four final tidbits: (1) I loved that Delbert uses the Socrates quote "Speak, so that I may see you" as a tool for measuring character; (2) Delbert and Bonnie Raitt have leaned on each other, and helped get each other out of musical and financial jams for years; (3) Are you sitting down? Delbert McClinton is 77 years old; and finally, (4) If you like Delbert McClinton, or if you like the country/rock/blues music he sings, or if you have some Austin music history yourself, or if you like to read books about musicians, or if you have a pulse, you’ll enjoy Delbert McClinton – One of the Fortunate Few.

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Driving to Marfa for a short stay at the beautiful and hip Hotel St. George was just an excuse to swing by the grandkids’ ranch to drop off Christmas gifts, and to listen to a good book while on the road. When I researched “best of 2017,” for a book for our trip, Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke kept popping up, so I took the leap, with fingers crossed, and purchased and downloaded the book.

Bluebird, Bluebird is about the seemingly connected murders of an African American Chicago attorney, and a young, white wife and mother, in a small East Texas town, and the racial tension that surrounds their deaths, as well as the investigation of their deaths by a flawed but ethical African American Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews. Locke does a pretty good job creating a compelling story, creating conflict and questions, and making us wonder why two seemingly disparate characters, seen together just prior of their deaths, died, and who could want them both dead.

Although I do recommend this book, and think you will enjoy it, I won’t rate it as highly as some. First, for me, Locke never fully developed several characters and side stories that filled a lot of dialogue and type, but never seemed important to the story and ended up just feeling annoying and confusing (i.e., the Chicago attorney’s wife, and the Texas Ranger’s wife, and another murder case in which the Texas Ranger was involved). Second, Locke never made us feel any emotion for the two murder victims. If we’d liked them more we might have cared more that their murders be solved. And finally, and I see this mistake made so often in books - all the small-town, white characters are ignorant, immoral, “hayseed,” shady characters, and all the small town black characters are wise, moral, oppressed, people of good character. Profiling doesn’t work any better in literature than it does on the streets. I get that that is the theme of this story, but “all the white people are bad” and “all the black people good” doesn’t work any better than “all the white people are good” and “all the black people are bad.”

Although we were happy enough with Bluebird, Bluebird to stick with it beginning to end neither me nor my husband said, “Wow! I loved that book” or “That book was really great!” We did however say, “That was a really good book.” But as you probably understand, there’s a pretty vast chasm between a good book and a great one. Read it.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

I discovered Harari’s Homo Deus (Latin for Man/God) last spring when it was first released in English, but when I realized it was the sequel to his other best-seller, Sapiens, I put it aside to read Sapiens first (see my review here). Although Sapiens wasn’t the first version I’d read of how humans gained dominance over the world, it was the first version I’d read that didn’t feel driven by a religious, political or scientific agenda, and it aligned pretty much with my own theories.

Harari’s sequel, Homo Deus, didn’t fit me quite so well – probably because Sapiens was a lot of deduction/interpretation based on what we (as a society/humanity) know about ourselves (recorded history), and is behind us. Homo Deus, however, is predictive, and that challenges the future we see for ourselves, and is therefore scarier – especially as predicted by Harari, who starts this book with this charming observation:

“For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined.”

And it goes downhill from there, setting the foundation for Harari’s prediction of where humans are collectively headed, and causing me to walk away every 50 pages or so to stop my brain from spontaneously combusting. Harari says:
  • Humans live within an "intersubjective reality" that exist only in the human mind and are given force through collective belief (countries, borders, religion, money and companies), all created to enable large-scale, flexible cooperation between different individual human beings;
  • Humankind's immense ability to give meaning to its actions and thoughts is what has enabled its many achievements (human algorithms);
  •  Humanism is a religion in which humans are framed as the dominant, “godlike” beings (Homo Deus) - with ethics and values derived internally, within each individual, rather than from an external source (traditional organized religion); and
  • That “humanism religion” is generating “super/techno-elite” humans with the capacity to master the environment (no more war, hunger, disease, environmental degradation), but which is threatening the continued ability of humans to give meaning to their lives.
All this leads to Harari’s theory that some human’s will eventually become gods, and those who don’t will be rendered economically useless and die off. Fun stuff huh? But dystopian forecasts (The Handmaids Tale, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World, Homo Deus) are not supposed to be fun. Homo Deus is a fascinating but heavy read.
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Dominika, beautiful daughter of a high-up Russian politician wants to be a ballerina, but her father dies and she suffers an injury, both of which limit her future options and render her vulnerable to an uncle who offers to help her and her mother if Dominika will become a “sparrow” – a seductress spy, and sleuth out a Russian traitor by bedding an American spy. So many clichés there – beautiful Russian ballerina, seductress, bedding the American. Couldn’t she just be a smart, clever spy like the male characters? 

OK, I know “sex” sells, but come on.  On the flip side, the sexy parts are pleasantly sexy, and the story is fun, so I let it slide, and enjoyed Red Sparrow

I also enjoyed it because it is a spy novel with a female protagonist, and those are rare; the story was complicated enough to keep me interested, but not so complicated I ever felt lost; and finally, Matthews is a gifted writer – in that he is a 33-year CIA veteran, lending huge believability to the spy narrative, and gifted in that he is an exceptional writer of dialogue and characterizations.

Read Red Sparrow.

Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton

We know a lot about Cowboys and cattle. Right - John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Rawhide, George Strait? Not really. What we know about cowboys mostly came from Hollywood and Nashville, and is highly dramatized and substantially inaccurate.

In Cattle Kingdom, journalist Christopher Knowlton shines a spotlight on the historic origins of the legends, providing a vastly expanded context for understanding more about the world that produced cowboys. What we learn is that much of the development of the cattle/beef industry in America that gave birth to the cowboy developed from a strangely irrational source, the English law of primogeniture, which defines an exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son.

Up until the late 1800s, the American cattle industry was barely a bump on the map of US development. But then a couple of eastern seaboard journalist wrote about the western lifestyle and the life of “cowboys,” dramatizing them to the point that although most of what was written was far from the truth, the image and image worship persists more than 100 years later. For example, although the “six-shooter” and gun fights are typically associated with cowboys, Knowlton clarifies that very few cowboys in the 1800s had the money or a reason to own a pistol. He also burst the “romantic” bubble of the cowboy life, re-defining their lives by long work-hours, harsh weather, almost no pay, danger and loneliness.

But back to primogeniture. When life on the western front was romanticized, it drew the attention of several wealthy English families’ second sons, who were desperately looking for a way to establish their identity outside of primogeniture. They didn’t have the title or wealth inherited by their older brother, but they did have access to significant potential investors, and the west represented an exciting opportunity to attach themselves to a lifestyle that had captured the imagination of the wealthy English gentry.

Within a couple of years, owning large and growing cattle ranches in Wyoming, Dakota Colorado and Texas became super trendy, creating an industry that produced cattle drives, plush ranch homes, bustling cattle towns, refrigerated cattle cars, luxury steak restaurants and clubs of wealthy ranchers and an even more inflated image of cowboys and gentleman ranchers. Unfortunately, it also produced land-wars and other criminal activity, financial devastation for most of the investors (who pretty much knew nothing about cattle ranching), and a colorful chapter and many colorful characters (one of which was Theodore Roosevelt), adding to the history of the development (and conservation, thanks to Roosevelt) of the American west. 

If you like cowboys and/or history, Cattle Kingdom is an easy, well-written, interesting read.

Wishing The Best of 2018 - From Our Fam to Yours

Sunday, November 5, 2017

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren, #27

Photo is of me and my friend Lisa in NYC - looks sort of "Thelma & Louise" doesn't it. It was around this time I thought sex was a tool for fixing my low self-esteem. Turns out it did just the opposite.

Sex won’t fix what is wrong with your head or your heart.

Epiphanies come from the unlikeliest places sometimes. This one came to me through a movie - nothing artsy or classic, but rather from the movie “City Slickers” – and no, it’s not the “just one thing” thing.

In the movie, Patricia Wetting, who plays Billy Crystal’s wife, is talking about a friend of theirs who is having an affair, and she says, “I’m not happy here,” (pointing to her head), “or here” (pointing to her heart), “So I’ll just be happy here,” (pointing to her pelvis). I remember momentarily slipping into a parallel universe as I reflected on my own brief, albeit intense period of sexual promiscuity and low-self-esteem. And in that moment, one thing became perfectly clear; the worst decisions of my life were all made when my self-esteem was at its lowest.

Unfortunately, some of those bad decisions involved looking for someone else to make me feel better about myself, i.e., they want to have sex with me so I must be better than I think I am (or better than someone else thinks I am). And sometimes the sex was so great I mistook it for love. But when the sexual attraction leveled off - and it always does - I was right back where I started – but with the added guilt. Too many mistakes later, I finally learned that although other people can stroke your ego, the only reliable way to avoid the pitfalls of low-self-esteem is by becoming a lovable person – lovable to yourself. 

So, the lesson I’m hoping to convey is that although sex may make you feel better about yourself for a while, unless your heart and your head also feel good, it won’t fix anything, and the damage could last a lifetime. So, become the person you can love, and chances are others will love you too, and if they don’t, then that is their problem, not yours.

Cluster Critiques

The Dry by Jane Harper

When main character Aaron Falk was a teenager he had to leave his small hometown in Australia because something horrible happened. Twenty years later he reluctantly returns to attend his high school best friend, Luke’s funeral. But Luke isn’t the only one dead as his wife and young son were also found at a bloody scene that implicates Luke as the killer - of his family and himself.  

Within a few hours of Aaron's arrival,  Luke’s father is threatening Aaron, who is federal officer in Melbourne, with blackmail if he doesn't stay to prove Luke didn’t kill himself and his family? Blackmail him for for? What happened 20 years ago and why do the townspeople harbor such hate for Aaron? What, if anything does it have to do with Luke and his family’s deaths.

Jane Harper's believable small community culture, colorful characters, and unique plot textures keep the reader off balance, driving a compelling and satisfying plot. Read it.  

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary has written another informative and interesting book. Much of it is a rehash, albeit fascinating rehash of the story of her commendable and impressive history of public service and the disasters and victories that hallmark that history. And much of it is in defense of the controversies used against her by both Obama and Trump.

If you’ve not read her other books or books about her, it will be impressive; if you have you may find yourself wanting to skip thorough chapters. Once you get past everything leading up to her second bid for the Presidency, much of this book is about the day-to-day drudgery of the campaign trail, along with surprisingly believable and touching vignettes featuring her seasoned relationship with Bill Clinton and her reflections on grandmother-hood.

Unfortunately, although Clinton very effectively tells us “what happened” during her life, her public service, and her several election bids, I don’t feel like she tells us “what happened” in terms of “why” she didn’t win her race against Donald Trump - because she doesn’t really understand herself.

She of course discusses Russian interference and touches on the undercurrent of “white, male discontent,” but at the core of it all is the unsettling truth that even hindsight doesn't reveal. It is still simply confounding – to Hillary, to me, to the press, to the Democratic and Republican Parties, to many voters, and probably even to Trump.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

When I learned that my BFF in New Mexico, and Keanu Reeves and Bill Gates all loved this book. I knew I had to read it, and I too couldn't put it down! Why? I can't speak for my BFF, Keanu or Bill, but for me, Sapiens was a fresh and intriguing perspective on human history, un-tinted by religious doctrine and untainted by human arrogance, and certainly an version of the history of Homo Sapiens I’d not heard before.

With the passing of time, perspective is something with which I've become very fond, and this book was a provocative perspective for me, in the same way the book, Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey was. Before I read Diaries most of what I understood about the westward movement of the mid 1800, was the courage and determination of the frontiersmen and the savagery of the American Indians. In “Diaries” which was womens’ account of that same period, families traveling west in covered wagons withstood horrible conditions, buried their children along the trail, settled in extremely primitive conditions, and never saw their other family members again. Their diaries also said the frontier families would have never survived without the help of the Indians, who taught them how to ford rivers and plant corn. A very different perspective. 

Bill Gates’ review of Sapiens is good, and although I don't agree with everything he says, worth sharing (click on read more below).