Thursday, January 29, 2004

I'm reading Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. It won the Mann Booker Prize this year. It's a novel about an Indian boy whose family owns a zoo, and eventually they leave Indian to move to Canada, but their ship has an accident and goes under, and the boy and several of the animals from the zoo are the only survivors on a life boat, drifting on the sea. The animals in the life boat with him are a zebra with a horribly broken leg, an orangutan who is in shock, a bloodthirsty hyena, and a tiger named Richard Parker, who is seemingly doing nothing at this point in the book. The hyena, though, has killed the zebra and the orangutan and our boy hero is perhaps next.

The novel so far has been about the narrator's faith system. He is in love with God, and practices Hindu, Christianity and Muslim, until all the leaders in his town realize he's going to all of their services and try to make him pick which one he is. He sees all of the faiths as one, though, much to their dismay. They feel guilty when they demand he chooses because he claims, "I just want to love God." It's a heartbreaking scene, really, because you have three religious leaders trying to force the kid into a seperation from his God at some level, because all three faiths together is what he needs and wants. I'm a bit annoyed by the narrator's (possibly author's) viewpoint on agnostics, which is to say that it's wishy washy. After all, many readers would say that the narrator's viewpoint on religion is wishy washy, having three different faiths, claiming them all to be of the same source. I think this is brilliant, but not so brilliant when the same narrator has such a narrow minded perspective on agnostics. Why would someone who claims three faiths find agnosticism to be a wishy washy perspective? After all, it's one step removed from his own, if we're defining agnosticism as the idea that God may or may not exist, but that none of the religions available can adequately describe what God is. Here we have a narrator adhering to more than one faith in order to describe God better, to worship to his heart's completion. Yet the religious structures themselves do not accomodate this sort of thinking. He obviously believes in God, yes, thus putting him in the believer's camp. But his meta-religious theology, I would think, would place him in a more compassionate position when he concerns himself with agnostics.

Oh well, enough of this perplexity. I'm off.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

In the past few years, I've thought about my parents more than ever. I think it's for a couple of reasons. Mainly because as I'm maturing (he says) I've come to see them more as people and less as parents. They're still my parents, but our relationship as parent/child has changed over the years, as is proper. They're more like friends to me now. Recently, I've started going to movies with them. Around Christmas time, the three of us went to see The Missing. This is a movie that my dad's all about. It's got Tommy Lee Jones, cowboys and Indians, guns and slave trade, and witchcraft. It's basically a supernatural Western film. I hadn't gone to the theatre with my mom and dad for years, it seems. We've watched videos at home, of course, but it's a whole nother atmosphere, watching at home. What I discovered when the three of us went to the movies, though, was that I had become the parent and my parents the children. Seriously, the two of them were monsters.

"Who is that supposed to be?" asks my mother. She's sitting between me and my father.

I say, "Watch the movie and find out."

"I think that's her father," says my father. It sounds like he's trying to whisper, but not really.

My mother turns to me and says, "Your father thinks that her father." She smiles as if my dad is a great detective.

I say, "You two have to be quiet. There are people around us. It's the theater, be quiet, okay?"

My mother smiles at this, as if she knows something I don't. Are they doing it on purpose?

Later: "What's he doing?"

"Just watch."

"Well that guy had that coming to him."

Laughter from my mother. "Did you hear what your dad said?"

"Will you guys just be quiet??"


Later still:

"Take him over the cliff!! That's right, that'll teach him!"



We made it through the film finally, and a good time was had, and luckily it was a crowded cinema. Only about ten other people, so there was not a mob at the end. The next week my dad and I went to see Cold Mountain, and we were pretty quiet, so I started to wonder if somehow the two of them only talk through movies when they're together, playing off each other somehow. Turns out during Cold Mountain, I was the one who made noise. I couldn't help it. Every time Renee Zellwegger's character, Ruby, said something, I cracked up.

Cold Mountain was a great film. You can pan what you want, but the one thing about that film (and the book) that is interesting, is its perspective on the Civil War. We have created a wrongful image of the South, as well as the North, due to the outcome of that war, and due to the, yes of course wrong-headedness of slavery. But with films and books like this one, we can revise that image to see a truer South come into the cultural consciousness. And for that, I appreciate the movie.

Plus Ruby was a gem.

Monday, January 26, 2004

I always find my mom giving me wisdom that she doesn't intend to give. It's just her personality, I guess, from which I'm able to draw wisdom. It's different than someone consciously imparting wisdom to you, which is nice, but if it's a big part of their personality, it can be annoying, even if the advice and lessons are good ones.

Like, a while back, I was going through a rough time in my life, feeling adrift and lost and everything I tried to do (even my "good" decisions) seemed to backfire. I was sort of down and out at one point, but I had been keeping all the negative aspects in my life from my parents. I think I was telling myself I was shielding them, but in the end I think it was me not wanting to face myself, because your family, if it's in working shape, often functions as a mirror. It does for me, to some extent. And at that time in my life, I rarely talked to them or visited. (Of course, some families don't work as mirrors, particularly if they have the inability to "see" or "recognize" who you are, but that's not the case with my family, or not with most of them).

So at my lowest point, I finally called my mom to try and talk to her about my problems. She answered the phone cheerful, as always, and before I had a chance to open the conversation, she started talking about a book she was reading to her fifth graders. It was about a boy who was trying to save the world, but everything he did blew up in his face. When he tried to save an endangered animal, he just made things worse. Things like that. So my mom told me the basic storyline, and afterward she said, "I keep telling my kids the important thing is that the little boy keeps trying."

Of course I started crying, first silently, then when my mother realized and asked what was the matter, I started sobbing. And it was all because of her story about the little boy. She had managed to create for me in one moment a symbol of a couple of years of my life. And she had done it without knowing what she'd done.

When I first moved into this apartment, which was a decision I'd made (one of the "good" ones) as a step to becoming more independent of other people (particular ones, of course) my mom brought me a plant that someone had given her at her brother's funeral. He had passed away around the same time I moved into this apartment. She said, "Take care of this," and we found a place to put it that looked nice. I didn't know if I could take care of a plant, though. I was having trouble taking care of myself at the time, so in my mind I was thinking, This plant is so dead. I gave it three months, tops.

But I've managed to keep it alive and healthy for almost two years now. But some of the fronds at the bottom of the plant have lately been yellowing or browning, and I was like, "Oh go figure, I spoke too soon. Here we go again, little boy thinking he's doing something right." But my mom came out for lunch this weekend and when I showed her the plant and predicted its imminent doom, she said, "Oh no, it's not dying. Look. Look how healthy and strong and thick the stalk is, and look at the top, it has a new growth coming in. It's just the bottom fronds that are having trouble. It just needs a bigger pot to grow in, and more soil, some new richer soil."

And of course she'd done it again, without knowing it.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Hey, if you're surfing, go read the year in review reports over at Fantastic Metropolis. I have a review there too, and I see they've posted my bio and my picture. I look pretty damned cute, too. Is that a "Wuthering Heights" look on my face? Or have I become paranoid?

Monday, January 19, 2004

Okay, stuff like this has just gotta stop. I've been working against this sort of thing for a while now. And here they go and tell me I'm:

Saturday, January 17, 2004

So, over above the archive is a new link for my quicktopic, in case anyone wants to leave messages or whatnot. And also in the sidebar, I've added a few new cool people. They're not new, they're just new to this site. I'm lazy with updating.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Hot damn. Go read Richard Butner's House of the Future at He's outdone himself.

Friday, January 09, 2004

So, although my last name isn't very common in most parts of our country, in Northeastern Ohio it has a bit of prominence. My family are sort of "pillar of the community" type people. My mom's a teacher, my dad used to work for the roads department in the county, my grandmother was the first woman to hold a trustee position in our township, my older brother is now a local politician. In the rural areas up north, if my last name is mentioned or noticed for whatever reason, people usually ask me if I'm Bea's grandson, or Donnie's brother, or Joyce's son. Things like that. In some cases, people have actually looked at me and asked if I was a Barzak. I was in an accident once, years ago now, where an ambulance came to check me out afterwards, and the first thing out of the paramedic's mouth was, "Are you a Barzak?" I said, "Yeah," and strangely enough also could tell what family he belonged to just by his looks. Small town life is very weird that way.

But eventually I moved to the next county down, and didn't have that many interactions of this sort afterwards. It was kind of nice, people not recognizing me.

Then today, I'm at the post office, mailing out stories, and the postal worker, Francine, takes a look at my return address and says, "I THOUGHT you were a Barzak!" and for some reason smiles really brightly, as if this itself is a good thing. She then follows it up with, "Are you Donnie's brother?"

I say, "Yes," politely and nod like a good politician's little brother. Francine runs into the back office and comes out with a newspaper clipping of her and my brother and several other official looking people. Turns out my brother helped her with the Stop the Family Violence stamp, or some such thing. He's such a damned do-gooder. ;-)

I must promise Francine at least three times to say hello to him for her, and then I'm allowed to leave the post office.

It's always a bit undermining somehow to be known because of other family members, to not be recognized as my own person. No one around here really knows that I sometimes publish stories, and sometimes in magazines or anthologies that are actually on the shelves of their bookstores, but they know my mother, my brother, my grandmother, my father. They know my family, and I immediately begin to feel them building an idea of who I am in their heads based on this profile. I haven't felt this annoyed in so long that I realize how keenly I have reacted against my family's identity for most of my life, almost like defining myself in opposition to them. I'm always the one leaving, or coming home again, or getting into some sort of trouble, or doing something that I think they might find semi-scandalous, or saying things that they might find to be completely outlandish. I have youngest child syndrome.

It doesn't help when your mother, after you've received a Master's degree in English and teach (granted) part time in the composition program at a university, after you've published a handful of stories in decent magazines and maybe have a career of some sort in writing ahead of you, suggests that you take over your brother's (the politician's) insurance business after the next election, as if you have nothing better to do, as if your life is obviously not going in any good direction of your own choosing.

But that's okay. I know it's just my family's way of showing they care about me. And hey, that's kind of comforting in a way. A weird way, definitely. But comforting. If I ever go bust, if I ever fall down and can't get back up, I can always sell insurance.


Saturday, January 03, 2004

Happy New Year to all! Sorry I'm late with that tiding. And um, others that have already passed. happy those tidings too.

New Year's was great. Alan and Kristin came down from his folks place in Erie, Pa, and Elad flew in a couple of days previous from San Francisco. I took them to the Nyabinghi for crapaoke, which was the most fun New Year's I've had in a long long time. People at crapaoke sing their songs badly or silly, for the most part, and many of the songs are eighties songs. It's an anti-pop event, bordering on punk posturing. Lovely, lovely.

Elad is still here and will be leaving in a few days. We're watching hella movies and took a trip to Pittsburgh today to the Carnegie Museum of Art and also to the Museum of Natural History. Dinosaurs are good. Yum.

The highlight of the New Year has been finishing my novel, just yesterday morning. Well, the first draft of it anyway. Sigh. Big disorienting last twenty-four hours. I've never ran a gauntlet like that before, and I'm exhausted but happy. I'm letting it sit now for a few weeks before going back in for my own initial rewrites, and then I'll be needing to ask some people to read it so I can get even more perspective on it for a second round of rewrites. It's so much damned work, these novel thingies.

I'm off again. Hope everyone is doing great!