Book Review: Fermenting Revolution

I just sat down with a  Poleeko Gold Pale Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing Company to finish reading “Fermenting Revolution” by Christopher O’Brien.

What have I learned from this book?  Well let me tell you.  First, I had no idea that Lost Coast had two women brewers in charge!  So AWESOME!  Their names are Barbara Groom and Wendy Pound and they are my heroes.  I’ve only had the snark-ily labeled Indica, which is what comes to mind for me (and I know for sure others) when they have a really funky IPA.  I will be sampling more of their catalog later!  I learned from this book that in the early days of brewing, women comprised the bulk of brewers, and it did not become a boy’s club until the industrial revolution.  If that information is tipped and is just pandering to me because I am a woman with a taste for ales and lagers, I’ll TAKE it!!

I also learned some fun trivia such as a legend recorded by Robert Louis Stevenson about the Pict’s fierce guardianship of the recipe for Heather Ale.  Now that’s a thing I’d like to taste!  I also learned a lot about pesticides and a lot about the ways that brewers–particularly craft brewers–are creating environmentally sustainable businesses.  It even comes with a handy guide at the back of the book on being a “Beer Activist–what he calls a Twenty-four Point Action Plan that includes simple tasks like taking cloth bags along to the store, buying kegs rather than bottles, composting your six-pack packaging and lowering the temperature in your refrigerator.  It seems to be things that are only applicable to those who drink beer habitually (I do, and he assumes the reader does), however with a little creativity, they can be applied to different aspects of one’s life.

Tonally this book is slightly forced, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.  What I interpret O’Brien as attempting here is to look at overwhelming themes such as corporate monopolies and injustice, loss of craftsmanship and locality, environmental blunders and health through the lens of something intensely pleasurable: beer.  And not only craft beer!  Coors and Anheuser Busch get their say as well!  Everyone is invited!

I’m pleased with this book and it has inspired me to get out the carboy and get my brew on.  This last weekend involved staying close to home after a long business trip so I didn’t get my ingredients yet.  So when I go buy ingredients for the first batch, what type of beer should I buy ingredients foooor?

 

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Book Review: Slaughter-house-Five

First of all, I feel kind of dumb because I used to think this book was called The Slaughterhouse Five rather than Slaughter-house-Five which is absurd and sounds more like the name of a J-Pop band than a book about a man who had been a prisoner of war in Dresden during its destruction.  Also time travel, or rather time-travel associated with schizophrenia and the annihilation of sanity.  “So it goes.”

These moments are what shape the book and give SHF it’s own non-linear structure.  The premise upon which this structure stands is that time itself is non-linear, an idea brought to the main character, Billy Pilgrim, by aliens from a far away planet who have no concept of linear time nor of free will.  “I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more.  Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”  It is this suspended acceptance that takes the jab of horror and injustice out of events that normally would induce emotional vomiting.  As Horace Walpole said, “life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel.”  It seems like the only way any of us can really exist as a complete human being is if we can pick and choose when we do which.

Vonnegut, when writing about himself in the first chapter, reflects on his time in college where they were teaching that, “Nobody was ridiculous, bad or disgusting,” and how his father comments, before his death, “you never wrote a story with a villain in it.”  I’d say he didn’t write a story with a true hero, either, because from the traditional viewpoint, no one in this book has sufficient opportunity to be heroic; even when characters do things that one could glorify as heroic, his actions are portrayed at best as mundane and at worst as futile.  A confrontation between Campbell, an American-turned-Nazi and Derby, a middle-aged prisoner of war, an event that would normally be lauded and perhaps even accompanied by strings on film, concludes with remarkable anticlimax.  “Campbell just smiled” and “The air-raid sirens of Dresden howled mournfully.”  It is nothing more than what becomes a recurring thing very quickly in this short book: a structured moment.  According to the fatalistic aliens, we have no more ability to change the structure of a moment in which we are living than bugs can change position while preserved in amber.

It is an idea that provides comfort, time travel between moments in life that always existed and continue to exist.  It’s an idea that was slightly bastardized–oopsImeanromanticized!– in The Time-traveler’s Wife except there’s no slapstick nudity nor need to explain one’s appearance in a particular place to anyone else.  Billy doesn’t “appear” anywhere.  He had always been in a particular place, in a particular moment, and in his life he relives these moments over and over.  With the horrors that he endures, this mystical dissociation seems like the most appropriate coping mechanism.  It makes it so one can be fatalistic and imaginative at the same time.

 

 

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Book Review: Depression-Free for Life

So here’s the deal.  I have, for the last several years, have been suffering from clinical depression (also known as Major Depressive Disorder), and it blows.  That being said, I am finally able to admit to this without shame, without the feeling that I’m a phony who just needs to suck it up and without feeling that I have to excuse anything about my existence.  Why?  Because denial isn’t going to get me anywhere.  And if it does get me anywhere, it isn’t going to get me better.

Depression Free for Life is a book given to me by my counselor that’s a first step in a direction to manage mood from a more holistic viewpoint, recognizing that it’s a very nuanced illness that happens for numerous different reasons–and often many at once.  Gabriel Cousens, M.D., designed this program based on treatments he’d done on people suffering from multiple symptoms that fall under the depressed umbrella (which I imagine to be a rather threadbare, half-open umbrella with holes punched in it).  He examines the different chemicals in the brain that stimulate pleasure and other positive emotions, and what supplements, amino acids, foods and activities can work to stimulate the under-worked neuro-transmitters.  In reading through it, I was able to identify my symptoms, connect these symptoms to causes, and decide which practical and inexpensive actions I could take in order to rectify the situation.  It’s all terribly empowering.  I’ve never felt so happy reading about depression (and thank goodness for that–it prevents quite an ugly cycle). As of now I haven’t been trying long enough to see if this works, but there are enough case studies in the text that I’m confident that I will at least show some improvement maybe even within two weeks.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 30 percent of adults suffer from major depression over the course of their lifetime.  For one thing, that indicates that many people in our circles are going through a similar struggle as I am.  I’m excited to learn that there’s work I can do to improve my quality of life, which according to Dr. Cousens is the “natural birthright that is the ultimate prize”.  I hope that other people will brush away shame or denial and do the same thing.

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Book Review: The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

the wind up bird chronicle cover

 

So my husband as well as my dear dear Jung-obsessed friend and I all decided that we would read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle together. 

This is after I had turned them both on to Kafka on the Shore several months ago.  Of course, their digging into the book coincided with a minor obsession on my part with history books including Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.  El Marido also had it in his head that I would buy the thing on Kindle and he could just go along lending out our print version–as if!!  The point is they both finished the thing well in advance of me, and would make veiled references to it at dinner to which I would cover my ears and sing the national anthem.

The good thing is, once I began to read and become more and more absorbed, they were available at the other end of my phone as I sat in my Sacramento hotel room with my half-eaten club sandwich and my open, garlic salt-dusted book.  Both made references to how they were interested in my perspective “because of the kind of work I do”, so that was a dead give-away that there would be sexual assault and child abuse.  The subtleties of that and how it would be woven into the narrative, however, were things I wasn’t quite prepared for. However, usually when I read Murakami (or any other magical realist for that matter), I try not to make any preparations at all.

Because I’m not into giving major spoilers, I’m only going to discuss my major emotional reactions and the themes that stuck with me the most (remembering that I hate saying “THIS IS WHAT A BOOK MEANS” and too much of that is what turned me off to being a lit major–let a story be a story and have multiple meanings, right?).  My Jung-loving friend told me before I began, “The only thing I’ll say is that the cave in this book is the well.” The cave, the portal to the unconscious, which I think has been mainly discarded as a little too metaphysical for the more scientific psychologists of late, but is still fully applicable for those of us who are ok with conceptualizing in terms that can be considered “incorrect.” This book is super metaphysical, as are most of his books. I myself am not comfortable in describing “the soul” or “the spirit” as things disconnected from the whole person.

In this book, however, we deal with several highly dissociative characters: whose voices change according to the depth of their sexual promiscuity, whose spirits disconnect from their bodies to do metaphysical battle from the bottom of a dried well, ones who have a media-face and a face that they show to people whom they mean harm. There is, in fact, a lot of rape/incest/sexual assault (often translated “defilement” by the translator Jay Rubin), but the terms in which they are described are highly symbolic and spiritual. Creta Kano, a character who became a prostitute because she claimed to be “numb to physical pain and pleasure” boils rape down to its essence, and that purest essence that experiences the pain–binds her ability to experience pain and pleasure into one piece–is described as an actual tangible thing, a thing separate from the body, that emerges from her body during her event. She is not the only one who describes the experience in that way–and in fact throughout the rest of the novel, rape is only linguistically addressed on the plane of the metaphysical.  This doesn’t even begin to describe the similarities drawn between this dissociation with pain in the victims and then in the soldiers that carried out and also viewed war atrocities in Manchuria. The men in these places described their pain in almost the same way. The recollections of these things is fragmentary and non-chronological, like the real communications of someone who is experiencing Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.

What started keeping me up at night once this book drew to a close was the repetition of this method of explaining things, not only within the world of the novel but outside it as well. As mentioned before, we learn in victim advocate training that the memory is non-linear in recalling trauma and violence, and it’s our job to help the survivor establish a narrative in order to help them make sense of what has happened in their lives. In art therapy sessions, people who perpetrate domestic violence often refer to and depict a “monster inside” of them who seems to be divorced from their actual intentions and the things that they desire in life. So far I’ve had a couple of major freak outs and a nearly-missed fight with my Church-minister father about this topic (to which he pointed me toward Romans 7, in which Paul describes the problem as well, but obviously–because you can’t–doesn’t offer a spic and span solution).

The novel itself is wonderful, the characters breathing, the setting clearly seen despite its nether-worldly complications.  As always Murakami is able to combine the mundane and the spiritual so seamlessly that it makes me look at things like a telephone, a computer, a cat, my own skin or a closet full of skirts and blouses with dual apprehension and wonder.

 

 

Review of “Yes means yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape”

So you may not be a horror movie fanatic, but I certainly am.  Part of the comfort of watching American slasher movies is that we are always able to point at the victim being ripped to shreds onscreen and go “Oooooo…she shouldn’t have done that…” waving our fingers from side to side.  It gives us the false sense of security that, as long as we don’t investigate the strange noise in the bushes, or go out the front door wearing nothing but a satin nightie, we’re never going to fall prey to the knife-wielding maniac.

One of the most disturbing, yet prevalent, myths about rape  in our culture is”s/he asked for it”.  If she was dressed provocatively, she asked for it.  If she was drinking alcohol, she asked for it.  If he was acting too flamboyant in public, he asked for it.  This is often sufficient to shut the minds of normally upstanding citizens and somehow block District Attorneys from prosecuting rape cases–even fully testing rape kits (listen to this Human Rights Watch Podcast on the issue:  http://www.hrw.org/en/audio/2010/03/18/untested-rape-kits-rights-watch-27 ).   The essays in “Yes means yes!”, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com, examine what the world would be like were these ideas not standing in the way of help and defense for victims of harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Some of the essays describe personal journeys and experiences of moving from a victim of assault to a survivor and even a thriver; beginning with the foreword written by comedienne Margaret Cho, continuing with an essay about body image and sexuality by fat-acceptance blogger Kate Harding, to the boyhood discovery by Brad Perry, indie rock drummer and violence prevention worker, that the paradigm of “getting some” from the neighborhood girls was embarrassingly flawed.  It also describes the plights of men, women and transgendered people who experienced rape and incest (and all the undisclosed “not-rapes” that traumatize and shape the experiences of far too many women in our country) and their struggles to come to an understanding of their situations and abolish their fears.

Other essayists examine the mechanisms in our society that perpetuate female objectification and tries to guide the reader into envisioning a sex-positive culture, where normally taboo subjects are freely discussed and female sexual pleasure is valued equally to male sexual pleasure.  One of my favorite essays was written by Thomas Millar and called “Toward a Performance Model of Sex”, which demands enthusiastic rather than reluctant consent, and focuses on communication and focus on the act itself rather than a limited “commodity” view: that sex is something that men “get” from women.

I am, naturally, all for female empowerment and autonomy in sexual relationships, as well as I believe in the right for everyone to feel safe no matter where they are/what they’re doing/ and what they are wearing.  In reality, it’s not the slasher-victim’s fault they were slashed because they were walking home alone.  It was obviously the guy with the black cloak and the Bowie-knife’s fault.  “Yes means yes!” reminded me that our culture needs to move away from the idea that only men should be allowed to inhabit public spaces at all hours without fear, and hold perpetrators responsible for the crimes they commit.  Our own illusions that we can prevent violence against ourselves by criticizing the actions of the victim only prolongs our risks of being victimized ourselves, and when such victimization does happen, our not being helped or believed.

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Book Review “Do it Anyway”

When I mentioned to my co-worker that I had read a book by this title, she thought I was quoting a poem attributed to Mother Teresa the link to which you can find here.

This poem, in fact, is housed in the front-pages of Courtney E. Martin’s book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists.  It was a book that I easily read in one sitting; published in 2010, it was a profile of eight activist under the age of 35, members of a generation that Martin laments has been unfairly labeled “entitled, self-absorbed and apathetic.”  I can’t say that I completely disagree with the analysis, or even the fact that this analysis might be unfair and under-informed.  Martin, throughout the book, is able to vocalize her frustrations with the demands that have been made on us by our parents, whose generation was basically defined by broad social movements, and her intimidation by our current globalized world and the various seemingly insurmountable injustices that fill it.  “Contemporary efforts at social change often seem like going into a black hole,” she says.  “It’s easy to get lost once you’re sucked in–consider the complexities, the danger of good intentions, the comprehensive impact of multinational corporations, the ethical quagmires around every corner…It’s easy to feel like failure is inevitable.”

She seems like one iteration of myself as she discusses how strange it must seem for so many privileged young white women to take up crusades against social injustices.  Her reasoning is refreshing, waxing philosophical rather than self-recriminating.  She quotes Jane Addams in saying, “We may either smother the Divine Fire of youth or feed it.”  Martin emphasizes something that is sometimes too painful to say, that our happiness and privilege is empty without meaningful actions and convictions to back up that happiness.

Though she does examine the life and death of Rachel Corrie, who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home, most of the activists are alive and working hard day-to-day within the United States.  She interviews filmmaker Emily Abt, a filmmaker who has done documentaries on sexual violence and HIV/AIDS along with actress Rosario Dawson who use art to convey their messages.  Not only these people, but environmental justice advocates and advocates for female veterans whose main arena is what often seems like the brick wall of policy.  Each of these people, as well as the teachers, philanthropists and social workers that rounded the work, spoke to me in a different way.  All are people whom I could see myself having lively conversations with and whose actual work I could support.

I read it on the ground and in the air between Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Sacramento before at last being conveyed by my good friend and Maid of Honor to the DoubleTree for a week-long conference for my new job as a Community Education Coordinator for our local rape crisis center.  The trip, as well as the purpose, reminded me a lot of being in college again.  The flight as well as the hotel stay reminds me of attending the Urbana conference in Saint Louis, Missouri when my Christian faith was fervent and stoked with the fuel of other young men and women who believed our faith could change the world. Though now my issue is more focused on the temporal, more specified on ending specific acts of violence, though I’m alone in my hotel room instead of bunking with three other girls, it feels like I am relying on faith all over again.

Maybe we can–not save the world–but change the world.  Two days into this conference, which offers options on using social movements to end power-based personal violence, I am starting to dare to believe that there might actually be something significant I can do.  If, after implementing these things, I can see even small-scale results, I’ll know that it was worth my time.

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