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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

You guys sometimes I just ramble

Privilege is a difficult subject that I'm just starting to wrap my head around. It's hard to admit that part of the reason I have a great job that does stuff like send me to Moab to listen to people talk about cool stuff like lil' pygmy rabbits and rosy finches is because of privilege. I grew up in a place with good public schools, and I'm a tall white man. I was dealt a full house and then I act all smug when I manage to make fifty bucks.

I def deserve this

In the back of my mind I realize that someone smarter could have turned that hand into something much better, and there are people who were dealt worse who manage to make some serious bank anyway. I've had so many second, third, and fourth chances, you guys. I look at what my life would be like without the safety net of things like good health insurance, family, and just a general sense of society being on the side of my gender, race, and religion and guess what it ain't rosy.

Privilege is a complicated thing. In this episode of This American Life, there's a pretty good breakdown of what it takes to succeed when success is not expected of you. Spoiler: it takes someone pretty special. More special than me.

Here's the dumb thing about me. I'm sitting there with my metaphorical full house and just steaming because I didn't get the royal flush I see someone showing off down the street (hypothetically... not on OUR street). I'd like a car like that, I whine to myself from my own old little car that would literally be the difference between success or failure for many, many people in my own country yea even my own state yea even my very city. But I guess all of us can't be born to Mitt Romney.

Guys I don't want to be a Romney. I don't want to be anybody else or have anybody else's stuff. I don't know what else anyone is dealing with and don't want to find out. I like my little car and I sure like my wife, kids, and job. So I don't have an elevator just for my cars. I just have everything else anyone in the history of the world has ever desired.

Doesn't hurt to step back and think about that a minute. Let's do it through literature since that's what we do here. Sip your metaphorical hot beverage while we sit around a cozy metaphorical living room here in Howie's Book Club. Don't you spill though we just cleaned the carpets.

Back here I titled the post the Spanish word for "bones" because I was going to write about two books that had bone in the title. Then I got mad and ended up writing just one. This is the kind of crazy unpredictability you get here. The other book, which has to do with the theme of that first post, is Daniel Woodrell's Winters Bone.
“Ree, brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes, stood bare-armed in a fluttering yellowed dress, face to the wind, her cheeks reddening as if smacked and smacked again.”
In Winter's Bone we read about Ree, who you might be picturing as Jennifer Lawrence from the movie. The "smacked and smacked again" could be just as much about the wind as it is her life. Her mom is a shadow of herself due to mental illness. “Long, dark, and lovely she had been, in those days before her mind broke and the parts scattered and she let them go.” Her two younger brothers are hungry and there's no food. And it's very cold out. Oh, and her meth-selling father has skipped his bond. He leveraged the house against the bond, so it's kind of a problem.

Ree joins a growing list of tough girls who embark on a scary journey to find a family member. Ree's just 16 and maybe the toughest one yet. Her dream is to join the army, where people are forced to clean up for themselves. She just wants to get her brothers self-sufficient first. In between looking for her dad, she teaches them how to shoot and gut squirrels. How to make stew from the venison her cousins give her.

Woodrell's as good with language as anyone I've read.
“Ree followed a path made by prey uphill through scrub, across a bald knob and downhill into a section of pine trees and pine scent and that pious shade and silence pines create. Pine trees in low limbs spread over fresh snow made a stronger vault for the spirit than pews and pulpits ever could.”
The writing is spare and brutal, I've never been to the Ozarks but having read this I feel like I kinda have. And that I probably need a shower afterwards.

I also read Woodrell's Tomato Red. I'm more ambivalent on the story, but man, the writing. Here's how it begins:
“YOU’RE NO ANGEL, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it’s been a gray day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom, and since you’re fresh to West Table, Mo., and a new hand at the dog-food factory, your choices for company are narrow but you find some finally in a trailer court on East Main, and the coed circle of bums gathered there spot you a beer, then a jug of tequila starts to rotate and the rain keeps comin’ down with a miserable bluesy beat and there’s two girls millin’ about that probably can be had but they seem to like certain things and crank is one of those certain things, and a fistful of party straws tumble from a woven handbag somebody brung, the crank gets cut into lines, and the next time you notice the time it’s three or four Sunday mornin’ and you ain’t slept since Thursday night and one of the girl voices, the one you want most and ain’t had yet though her teeth are the size of shoe-peg corn and look like maybe they’d taste sort of sour, suggests something to do, ’cause with crank you want something, anything, to do, and this cajoling voice suggests we all rob this certain house on this certain street in that rich area where folks can afford to wallow in their vices and likely have a bunch of recreational dope stashed around the mansion and goin’ to waste since an article in The Scroll said the rich people whisked off to France or some such on a noteworthy vacation.
That’s how it happens.

Can’t none of this be new to you.”
Tomato Red made me think, a lot. About people growing up in a situation in which they think they have no chance, but they try anyway. Sonny Barlow isn't ambitious. He just wants to find someone who will accept him. He meets Jamalee and Jason, who have set their sights higher. Brother and sister, they're both in their late teens/early twenties, and they've got a scheme.

Jamalee knows she's meant for better things, but she knows her work is cut out for her, too.
“Sammy, wouldn’t you like to add up to something? In the future? Amount to something?”

“Naw. I just figure to roll on, stackin’ days, you know, till the day I mess up big enough the future gets canceled. Or else all planned out for me, maybe. There’s a somewhat likely chance of that.”

“Man, Sammy, I can’t live thinking that way"

"Well, I don't think about it.”
Sammy's not as dumb as he sounds. He just sees things the way they are to him. The rich get better results when they let the poor fight among themselves.

So. Books, huh?