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Prompt: I come from . . .
Time: 10 minutes

I come from the earth. From the mud, from the grime, from the moss. The moss with its teeny, tiny, tree-like structures. I want to be a millimeter tall and climb them. Look out from the top across the wet, green mini-forest, the damp, brown earth below. More green, more brown above.

I come from the air—the expansive, deep breath of air I take in at the top of the mountain or just above the water as I rise from underneath the surface of the lake—or my bathtub.

I come from the fire—the smoky wood smell, the red- and orange- and blue-flamed fire. The fires I’ve seen of a house across the street, of the hotel where my parents worked—flames shooting up from the roof. From the fire of emotions—of anger, of love, of something equally strong but in between. From the fire deep within me, inextinguishable, sometimes raging, sometimes crackling, sometimes merely quietly smoldering.

I come from everywhere. And anywhere. And some places in particular. A dark corner in a carpeted closet. A warmly lighted entryway into a cozy apartment. A dream.

American Wife

Curtis Sittenfeld's newest novel

Curtis Sittenfeld is a brilliant writer. I was first introduced to her work by the short essay “Your Life as a Girl,” a heartbreakingly poignant—and arrestingly well-written—piece about what it can be like to grow up as a woman in this society. I was captivated by Prep, her coming-of-age novel about a girl with working-class roots that attends an exclusive boarding school in Massachusetts. Sittenfeld’s adeptness at conveying the anxiety and pain and wonder of adolescence is remarkable. I am especially interested in the class and gender dynamics that inform and are repeatedly examined in Sittenfeld’s work.

In her newest novel, American Wife, she takes on the perspective of a certain American first lady. Loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, the novel follows the life of Alice Lindgren, a polite girl from Wisconsin who survives a tragic accident in high school and, through a series of events, finds herself in the White House. The narrative shows how, little compromise by little compromise, a person can get so far away from certain values they hold dear, in service of others, and what it’s like to live your way into a life virtually unrecognizable to oneself. It shows what it is to be charmed, swept away, and the long-lasting effects of that. It shows how hard it is to live a life of contradictions.

This is a book that’s hard to put down and hard to let go of when you’ve turned the last page. That I would ever say that about a book loosely based on the life of Laura Bush is testament to Curtis Sittenfeld’s serious talent for effectively portraying the complexities and nuances of a person’s life, including the rich inner life.

I just ordered the anthology This Is Not Chick Lit, a collection I’m excited to check out that includes a piece by Sittenfeld. It will have to wait until I’m done with my newest read (which I just started and am already mesmerized by), though—The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.

Atwood the Adorable

Amelia Earhart and her plane "Old Bessie"

Amelia Earhart and her plane "Old Bessie"

While on a recent adventure, I saw the new film Amelia, all about the life of Amelia Earhart, an amazing, pioneering female aviator who captured the attention of the nation and the world before her 1937 disappearance in the midst of an around-the-world flight. While I’m glad I saw the movie, I have to say that I was disappointed. As so many mainstream films do, especially when women are the main characters, it seemed to unfortunately overemphasize her romantic entanglements. From what I’ve been told of Amelia Earhart’s life, there are myriad aspects that could have been expanded upon—and all for the purpose of more compelling storytelling. I would have loved to see more of her childhood and gotten a clearer vision of where her love of flying and her independent spirit stemmed from and how they took root. I would have loved to have a more nuanced sense of the role her family played in her life and the effect that they had on her—good and bad—more than the few throwaway lines that were mentioned. I would have loved to get a wider view of the professional work that she was up to and her work with the Ninety-Nines, a group of women aviators that still exists today. And if you’re going to spend all that time concentrating on her romantic relationships, I would have liked to see some development of their foundation so that when they’re being played out on screen, I actually am emotionally invested in them. Whether it was acting chemistry that was off or whether there just wasn’t enough introduction or set-up, I wasn’t pulled in by either of the romantic story lines, which made the focus on them even less tolerable.

There was one moment in the film that actually had emotional resonance and stuck with me: Amelia is flying solo across the Atlantic, and it seems as if she’s not sure she’s going to make it. The look on her face as she finally sees land, all the emotions conveyed in a series of seconds—relief, joy, amazement—that whole sequence was really well done.

So why am I glad that I saw the movie? I think it gave me a small taste of Amelia, and despite its flaws (perhaps in part because of them) made me eager to learn more about her, to gain a fuller picture of her life and all that it contained. I’d like to seek out more well-rounded and richer accounts of her life and work. Any suggestions for further Amelia reading/viewing? And if you’ve seen the movie, what’s your take?

Feel free to check out the film, the official Amelia Earhart site, and the Amelia Wikipedia page (which includes theories on her disappearance).

I’m on a little break at the moment, but stay tuned for posts on the following and more!

  • American Wife, a novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Amelia, the movie directed by Mira Nair 
  • Natural Singer workshop with Claude Stein
  • Ridiculous and Sublime, a film by Maureen Cotton

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