Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Trifecta

I'm reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, and it's making me think a lot about gender roles, Islamism, other modes of living/being, war, family, marriage, motherhood, and love. It's quite well written--vivid, evocative, sometimes painfully so.

I know that I bring distrust, anger and pre-judgment to this novelist's world because I assume that the society he writes about denigrates the female, that its violence is often leveled against the woman, and that its religion is suffocating. I assume these things, however, because of my ignorance. I know very little about Afghanistan, its history, its culture, its religion.

Of course, Hosseini writes his novel to expose the injustices (for men and women) in this world; his point of view, in other words, is my point of view. In that way, I trust his narrative eye, am appalled where I need to be appalled, and hopeful where he allows me to be.

In a week or so, we'll begin to discuss the novel in my senior level creative writing seminar, and I'm looking forward to the students' input. At the same time, I have no idea what they'll say about the quality of the writing, the point of view, or the themes the novel takes up. One of the students--a young man who distinguishes himself for his love of magical realism and his somewhat effete demeanor during class discussions--has already announced that he "hated" The Kite Runner (a novel I loved). Gee, I thought, when he dropped that little tidbit into the middle of a discussion, and here I assumed you'd like a novel that comes from a place other than the boring kitchen-sink American realism you've been excoriating for most of the semester.


I'm in the middle of a book of poems by Philip Schultz, Failure, and I'm a bit miffed with it so far. The poems are certainly accessible, and most of them deal with the title theme, but I don't know why the book was awarded a National Book Award. Though the poems are well written, they are curiously flat, and devoid (at least for me) of any real insight into the nature of depression, failure, grief, or the lack of human connection the poet seems to find in poem after poem. Perhaps what I'm noticing is a self fulfilling prophecy, or something like the imitative fallacy: write about failure, and your work is ultimately just that, a failure.


In the spirit of multi-tasking, I'm also reading a self-help offering: The Mindful Way Through Depression (Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn). I chose the book for its last author; Jon Kabat-Zinn helped me to get through the worst years in Michigan, when I was on the job market for three years, a new mother, and all three of us were shoved into a booger-box 2-bedroom apartment with two very hairy cats. Now that the winter months in Green Bay are nearly pressing down on us again, I thought I'd try to get a leg-up on the depression and remind myself how to live more mindfully.

So far, I've learned that depression becomes a habit of mind. In other words, after suffering a depression (usually in response to some external event), we--or our minds--become more habituated to depression. Negative thoughts, small irritants, lead us down familiar pathways, spiraling inward (or downward) into more serious depression. We begin to fret, we feel the old depression coming on, and we tell ourselves Stop that, make yourself better, which itself is a negative thought. So, the authors tell me, we need to figure out how to interrupt that pattern, how to get our minds off the fretting circle it makes between past and future, and back to the present moment. We need to do less "doing" and more "being."

Funny, and ironic: as I read these ideas, I think with one part of my brain that, yes, this makes sense, and with another part of my brain, shit, this is all your fault again, isn't it? I will try to meditate, I know I will, and I also know that I'll beat myself up over it (mentally) for a while,
"doing" it wrong.

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