March, 2012 Archives

29
Mar
25
Mar

LSS: Commune-ity

by Jan in Uncategorized

A friend alternately refers to our family’s house as “The Compound” or “The Commune.”
It’s been a joke for years. She laughs because so often we have people coming in and out or staying for the summer. We like it that way.
When a friend and her daughter recently came to spend a few days with us, I decided there could be a lot to learn from the concept of commune living. Our visiting friend moved from Lafayette to France last fall and knew her way around town. We ate meals together and visited, but she and her daughter were self-sufficient.
Their visit was a thing of beauty and made me reconsider my 1970s image of a commune as little more than a refuge for flower children.
She and I shared responsibility carting our daughters around.
My teenage daughter appreciated the chance to talk with a different adult — and she thinks my friend is much cooler than I am.
If my friend was running late, I could get the kids where they needed to be.
All in all, it was a more pleasant, manageable pace of living than the way we find life taking us all too often. We had each other’s backs.
The concept of having people nearby contributing to daily living is not new. It’s the way the world has operated throughout most of civilization. Why our generation and society is so determined to do it differently is a good question, because every parent I know out there realizes the truth — keeping up with everything we’ve got to keep up with is wearing us down.
And while I realize that most of us won’t take the drastic steps of moving to a commune or intentional community living as they’re called these days, it is interesting to note that The New York Times notes that the style of living that gained popularity in the ’70s is coming into vogue again.
In fact, according to the website of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities, an international organization that serves the growing communities’ movement, every state in the union and a long list of other countries are home to one type or the other of intentional community, defined as an inclusive term for ecovillages, cohousing communities, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, urban housing cooperatives, intentional living, alternative communities, cooperative living and other projects where people strive together with a common vision.
According to the website, the U.S. is home to 1,866 of the properties. (However, one of the eight located in Louisiana is a micronation called the Kingdom of Bahoudii, located in Lake Charles and founded by a guy named David Mevis, who crowned himself King David I.) The Bahoudii example illustrates why the concept is considered fanatical, outrageous and extreme. However, before we toss it out as complete lunacy, think about this: the parts of the journey that we’re on that are most fulfilling are the parts in which we’re working with others toward a common vision.
Granted, the commune idea takes that notion a little further and the idea of living on a bona fide commune may not suit the majority of us. Yet, the idea of living in a community comprising people who are striving together with a common vision, is certainly appealing. The reality is that the concept is all around us, but we don’t even notice it — that’s what makes churches places we want to be, that’s what makes the neighborhoods where people want to live and the places where people want to work.

23
Mar

Hunger Games review, updated

by Jan in Uncategorized

My 14-year-old daughter and I went to see The Hunger Games at midnight Thursday night/early Friday morning. In full disclosure, I had to stop reading the book (even though my daughter loved it and begged me to read it). I just couldn’t handle the violence. In that sense, I am not the most objective movie reviewer.
The basic plot of the story is that a nation comprised of 12 districts hosts its two-week Hunger Games each year. In the televised games, a male and female teen, drawn from a lottery held in each district, fight to the death in a park-like setting as the nation watches.
Gruesome, right?
Well, there’s also some romance thrown in, combined with a host of incredibly likable characters. The books have been hot sellers since the first one came out back in 2008, but in the months leading to the first movie, the storyline has been immensely popular making children who haven’t read the books (and probably won’t be able to see the movie either) feel left out.
With that said, I admit that I did enjoy the movie, even though there was a part of me that dreaded seeing it. It did a good job in making viewers care. I was as into the story as I have been in a movie in a long, long time.
The moviemakers were very clear on their target audience. Even the cinematography was aimed at teens. I suspect many adults, even with the slightest equilibrium issues, will not find watching a lot of the movie easily. In fact, I had to shut my eyes sometimes and stop watching for a few seconds just because of the “running” action or additional, unnecessary movement of the cameras (think Blair Witch Project).
As much as I cared about what happened and was rooting for the dynamic duo from District 12, I had to shut my eyes in other parts of the film as well. It was just too bloody and violent. Kids killing kids is hard to take — and this was up close and personal.
Even as someone who didn’t finish reading the book, I could tell that many of the relationships in the movie had been barely developed, as compared to their literary counterpoint, but still, you got the message.
That said, I loved the Lenny Kravitz/Cinna character, even though his character was not developed at all.
Woody Harrelson’s character, Hamish, on the other hand, was richer and built-up more — and very likeable.
Katniss Everdeen, the story’s protagonist (played by Jennifer Lawrence), is a hero — and I applaud such a strong female character who lives by a moral code that earns respect. She is a beautiful blend of strength and warmth.
All in all, the movie kept my attention and made me care, but its subject matter was so graphic that I am still troubled that this is the current craze among teens, my daughter being one of them. My 10-year-old has begged to see it. That won’t be happening for a long, long time — and I hope by the time I believe she’s old enough to watch it that she won’t want to see it.

23
Mar

Hunger Games movie review

by Jan in Uncategorized

My 14-year-old daughter and I went to see The Hunger Games at midnight last night. In full disclosure, I had to stop reading the book (even though my daughter loved it and begged me to read it). However, I just couldn’t handle the violence. In that sense, I am not the most objective movie reviewer.
The movie did its job in making the viewers care. I was as into the story as I have been in a movie in a long, long time. Its moviemakers were very clear on its target audience. Even the cinematography was aimed at teens and not something many adults will find easy to take. In fact, I had to shut my eyes sometimes and stop watching for a few seconds just because of the “running” action or additional movement of the cameras (think Blair Witch Project).
As much as I cared about what happened and was rooting for the dynamic duo from District 12, I had to shut my eyes in other parts of the film as well. It was just too bloody and violent. Kids killing kids is hard to take — and this was up close and personal.
Even as someone who didn’t finish reading the book, I could tell that many of the relationships in the movie had been barely developed, as compared to their literary counterpoint, but still, you got the message.
Loved the Lenny Kravitz character, even though his character was not developed at all.
Woody Harrelson’s character, on the other hand, was richer and built-up more.
All in all, the movie kept my attention and made me care, but its subject matter was so graphic that I am still troubled that this is what the current craze among teens, my daughter being one of them. My 10-year-old had begged to see it. She will not be seeing it for a while.

21
Mar

LSS: the river is rising

by Jan in Uncategorized

the water is rising...the rain has slowed

After last week's historic rain fall just north of us, the river hasn't receded to its normal level. Today's expected massive rains have caused widespread fear of potential flooding. Here at our house, along the banks of the Vermilion, things seem to be proceeding with no cause for concern at 11:20 a.m. Let's hope it stays that way!

18
Mar

LSS: 350,000 words of life and learning

by Jan in Uncategorized

This column marks the tenth anniversary of Long Story Short running in The Daily Advertiser. That’s 520 columns or about 350,000 words (for reference sake, that’s more than three times the length of Twain’s Huck Finn).
Ten years worth of columns covers the span of the adoption of a daughter, the growing up of another, two trips to China, a move across town, four hurricanes, one husband with a pulmonary embolism and a miraculous recovery, three weeks in Thailand, four weeks in France, a trip to England for the royal wedding and a return to Slovakia for the wedding of a former student. Yet, the bulk of all those columns was about the not-so-glamorous mundane days in between.
Looking back at the last decade and trying to determine its lessons overwhelms me and fills my heart with gratitude. Frankly, rifling through the clippings makes me more sentimental than I’d like to admit — and, I’ve learned that sentimentality isn’t good for writing.
On the flipside, I’ve learned that specifics are good in crafting a narrative piece. I believe in atrocious-get-to-the-base-of-it honesty in relaying experiences. The truth makes people care. My advice to young (and old) writers interested in writing a narrative piece is: Tell it the way it happened — not the way you wish it had happened or the way that would have been prettier or less messy. Just tell it the way it happened.
I’ve learned that God has an amazing sense of humor — and that the joke is generally on us. These days I try hard to suppress any feelings of smugness or know-it-all-ness, especially about how I anticipate things will go down. All those vows I made about how my children would or wouldn’t behave? Yea, those. They crack me up these days.Thankfully, the people who knew better and were forced to listen to me back then demonstrated amazing self-restraint in not whacking me upside the head.
Ten years down the road, writing a column every week has led me to appreciate the value of consistency, in the form of a hard and fast deadline. Looking for a “theme of the week” helps clear my head and leads me toward making more sense of the world. Even when the chips are down, the discipline and inspiration a deadline offers is a gift.
I’ve realized that nothing demonstrates the adage, “This too shall pass,” better than the media. In the instances when I’ve made poor judgment calls, I’ve learned to keep on keeping on. People move on to other things so much quicker than I previously thought. In those moments, I also realized that there are many storms going on at once, and though it may feel like the whole world is circling frantically, in reality, they’re only circling as far as I can see. Just beyond that, they’ve got another storm going on and I’m not even on their radar.
Additionally, I’ve figured out that sleeping on whatever it is I’ve written before sending it in to be published is a good idea — and sometimes a luxury in the newspaper business. Even still, that lesson has landed so unswervingly in my soul that I’ve shifted it in to other areas of my life, in an effort to balance my naturally spontaneous nature with something more reasonable. These days I frequently write an email one day and wait until the next day to send it — particularly if it’s one that deals with some level of conflict or misunderstanding. You’d be amazed just how many words and phrases you choose to change after a good night’s rest.
But the biggest lesson I’ve learned in producing a weekly column for ten years is that when you listen to people, you come to know and love them and the place they call home more often than not. I’ve tried my best to listen to many of you and in doing so, I’ve grown to know and love so many and so much in this region I now call home too. Writing in a vacuum isn’t nearly as much fun as connecting to readers, and faithful readers help make the world go round. If you’ve gotten this far, chances are you’re one of them. For that, I say thank you.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears Sundays. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.

13
Mar

Long Story Really Short

by Jan in Uncategorized

Why did we start drinking water from bottles? When did it really catch on? Was drinking from glasses so tricky? Was the water from the faucet that bad? Is it a conspiracy?

What’s happened with water consumption is the reverse of what’s happened to newspapers. With water, we used to get it for free (basically) and now we pay for it — and thus, an industry has arisen. With newspapers, we used to pay for it and now we get it for free (basically) — and thus, and industry has nearly died.

Strange, isn’t it?

11
Mar

LSS: Get up and move.

by Jan in Uncategorized

Despite appearances, this is not a column about moving furniture.
Act 1
For reasons unknown, three months ago, my husband took all the bits and pieces I had stored in a rather large piece of furniture in our bedroom and moved it to our living room. Granted, the piece was not designed for a bedroom and shouldn’t have been there to begin with, but it was and, in my humble opinion, it worked.
But he didn’t think it belonged there, and, like I said, he was right. He moved it to a spot right beside our front door and said we would sell it. I was game.
The giant empty piece of furniture began its life near our front door.
Gradually, I started placing this and that inside its closed doors. A candlestick here. A souvenir there. A spindle of string. A birthday card. A pewter tray.
Haphazardly, the glass-doored 6-foot tall chest on legs began to fill. It looked ridiculous, and I missed the storage space in our bedroom — be it right or wrong.
At this point, I should be completely honest. I must admit that though I’d like to say this piece of furniture was moved three months ago, that is a lie. I only thought it was “a few months,” but upon closer reflection at the dated artifacts inside, I now realize it was moved more like 14 months ago.
At first, I asked about it often. In fact, it sat empty for a good two months.
I readily admit that this turn of events did not have happy consequences for my marriage. I began to ask about the piece of furniture, perhaps too often and with no results.
“When are you going to sell that thing?”
“Why did you empty it and move it in here to begin with?”
“It doesn’t look good there. We should do something with it.”
And so it went, for a long, long time.
Act 2
I get a lot of email.
Most of it is from people, companies or organizations I’ve taken an interest in over the years. Over the past several months, I’ve noticed a trend. Much of the unsolicited email comes in during the night. Yep, between 11:30 p.m. and 8 a.m., I’ve been getting about 60 emails each and every night. Granted, much of it has deals and information that I might be interested in — if I had the time and energy to sift through it all.
About three weeks ago, I began relentlessly deleting the junk email each and every morning. Call me slow, but early this week, I realized that I should simply unsubscribe to the array of emails filling my inbox over night. I decided to unsubscribe to a minimum of six lists a day. Doing so has been no easy task, but it’s been empowering.
Act 3
On Thursday morning, as I sat in my self-congratulatory stupor after unsubscribing myself from six email lists, I looked up and saw the giant piece of furniture — the very piece of furniture that has been driving me crazy for far too long.
I sat there and thought, “I bet that thing’s not really that heavy.”
I checked.
It wasn’t.
So, I removed the rugs and cleared a path between the living room and our bedroom and started moving the piece of furniture. With every foot I inched that large piece of furniture down the hallway, I became more and more robust and determined.
Of course, I thought, “Why didn’t I do this long, long ago?”
The feeling was the same one that I got from unsubscribing to the email lists. In both cases, for months, I had wallowed in a state of learned helplessness asking, “Why is this happening? Why doesn’t someone else fix this for me?”
When in fact, fixing both the problems was within my grasp all along.

Jan Risher’s Long Story Short appears Sundays. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.

6
Mar

LSS: Getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day

by Jan in Uncategorized

My grandfather had the gift of an Irish storyteller, even though he was born in the middle of the red dirt of Mississippi. When I was a child, listening to his stories was as nice as buttered biscuits and syrup. I realize now that many of the stories I loved were quite gruesome, but I suppose such is the case with most childhood favorites.
Think Little Red Riding Hood “the better to eat you with, my pretty.” Think Hansel and Gretel — two young children threatened by a cannibalistic hag who lives in a house made of cake and confectionery deep in a forest.
You get the picture.
The stories my grandfather told me were equally grisly. I had two favorites. The first was about the time when he was a teen and he and his dad were walking home after a day of working in the woods. My great-grandfather was walking with a hoe slung over his shoulder. A storm was brewing. A limb broke off a tree and fell. It hit my great-grandfather — which caused the hoe to cut a deep gash in his head.
My grandfather rode a horse to town to get the doctor. When he got to the doctor’s house, the doctor was having dinner and wouldn’t come right away. By the time, the pair made it back, my great-grandfather was dying.
He died singing “Pass me not, Oh Gentle Savior.”
As a kid, I could imagine the furious seven-mile ride into town, the frustration of waiting for the doctor and the grief of a beloved father’s death.
My other favorite was equally grim.
My grandfather would start it out, “Ireland, that’s where my people come from.”
He would then go on to tell me the story was about two brothers competing for the kingdom of Ireland. Their father, try as he might, could not decide which of the two brothers should become king. To settle the dispute, the father decided his two sons would have a boat race. The first brother whose hand touched the shore would become king.
And they were off.
It was nip and tuck.
Just as one boat was about to touch shore, the brother in the other boat chopped his hand off and threw it on shore to win the title of king.
He paid a price, but he won fair and square.
As a kid, the story raised loads of questions. Did the one brother plan his shocking master move in advance? At what point did he decide he was far enough behind that it was time to take drastic action? How long does it take to cut a hand off? Did he cut it himself? If so, how did he then have the presence of mind to throw it with the other hand? Was the father angry at the outcome?
My grandfather never entertained such questions. Hence, my mind was left to wonder. Once the story was done, he would go on to explain that our family was descendents of the one-handed brother who became king.
I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but he told the story with great conviction.
Skip 40 years.
About two years ago, I was reading a book set in Scotland. The protagonist was alarmed when a repairman with a tattoo came to her home. She described the tattoo as the Red Hand of Ulster and spoke of Irish extremists.
I’m not proud to admit that I didn’t know there even was a symbol called the Red Hand of Ulster. I didn’t know what it had come to represent to many, but I instantly remembered my grandfather’s story and knew there could be a connection.
I did some research and learned that my instinct was right. The hand represents the same bloody hand of my grandfather’s story. The power of the oral tradition is strong. He had heard the story throughout his youth from his grandparents.
Almost verbatim, the story is reprinted time and again on the Internet now.
Sadly, the Red Hand of Ulster is suffering an image problem these days — even though it’s one of the oldest symbols of Ireland, with variations ranging from Spanish and Viking brothers racing for Ireland itself to O’Neill brothers racing for the Kingdom of Ulster (a province in Northern Ireland). Yet, these days the image is caught in a tug-of-war between the Gaelic traditionalists who recognize its connection to all of Ireland and loyalists, predominantly of Northern Ireland, who use the symbol as part of their ethnic battle cry to create divisiveness.
As we approach St. Patrick’s Day in a few weeks, here’s a hope and a prayer that you carry on the tradition of oral history. The Irish certainly didn’t corner the market on telling a good tale.

4
Mar

LSS: Staying afloat.

by Jan in Uncategorized

About a month ago, after a week of watching the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster story develop, I was inspired.
Maybe it was because I needed a vacation, but something made me think, “I bet it’s a good time to book and take a cruise.”
I was right.
So, my family and I have spent this week cruising around the Caribbean. If you’ve taken a cruise, you know that the on-board experience is much like a fantasy world, full of interesting people, beautiful vistas, unlimited food and excellent service. (If you haven’t taken a cruise, don’t judge.) The oft-times sanitized shore excursions can easily extend the bubble of the dream world. We’ve enjoyed excursions before, but for this week, we decided not to go that route and explore more on our own and with local guides.
After two days at sea, we docked at Falmouth, Jamaica, a cruise port that’s been open less than a year — and a town that hasn’t changed much since England’s Emancipation Act of 1840. In the 1700s and into the 1800s, it was the hub of England’s sugar industry and a bustling port. Now despite the paint and polish shine of new buildings along the dock, the town is a jumble of run-down buildings from an era long vanished. Jamaica was gritty, green, peppery and easy on the ear all at once.
We hired a man named Helveston as our guide for the day. He created a tour designed to tick all the varied boxes of our family’s requests. We visited two so-called Great Homes, built in the 1700s for English plantation lords and their families, followed by a stop at a local grocery story — one of our favorite things to do when visiting different places. (You learn about a place and its people by paying attention to the food they prepare for themselves.) We ate an incredible lunch at our guide’s favorite restaurant, a very non-touristy spot looking over the beach with open pits cooking racks of jerk chicken and pork. Then we relaxed on the beach. Lastly, before re-entering the fantasy world of the cruise, we stopped by his young daughter’s school where our daughter chatted with his daughter and other students in the fourth-grade class.
The next day we stopped at George Town, Grand Cayman, British West Indies. To be relatively near each other and both settled by the English, Jamaica and Grand Cayman have very little in common. The difference is palpable. Our daughters picked up on the distinctions between the two islands and cultures within minutes of arriving in George Town. Where Jamaica is rough, Grand Cayman is smooth.
Relaxing on Grand Cayman came easy. We rented snorkeling equipment and swam along the coastal reef, spotting many types of fish including a school of squid.
On our third stop, we docked in Cozumel, Mexico, the only port we had previously visited. The last time we were in Cozumel, we spent the day relaxing on a beach. On this visit, we hired a man named Sonny to guide us around the island. He told us about Hurricane Wilma, back in 2005, the storm that spent more than two days ravaging the island. We identified with him in the way a great hurricane can change a place and its people. By design, only one side of Cozumel has electricity. I preferred the side of the island without — miles of open, undeveloped beaches and water crystal clear. We stopped at several spots to enjoy the beach and take in the view. The waves and wind were so powerful that it was easier to sit in silence than do a lot of talking. It was a perfect place to relax or to sit and write. I could have stayed for a while.