Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Review of "Hallaj: Poems of a Sufi Martyr" by Husayn ibn Mansur Hallaj; translated from the Arabic by Carl W. Ernst

I really liked the cover art, too. 

I feel like I have to start this by saying I am not at all qualified to talk about Sufi poetry. The only thing I can tell you about it is that I enjoy reading it.

Like many people here, most of my exposure to it was Rumi. Even at the university level. I feel like that's ridiculous.

Not that Rumi isn't spectacular, it's just that it's like eating one piece of delicious cake and declaring that it is the only flavor cake you ever need to eat again. Nobody does that. I don't think we should do it with this kind of poetry. 

Hallaj was a fascinating person and I can't believe I hadn't heard of him before. He was a martyr and had some radical ways, like bringing Sufi teachings out to the public, that were interesting. 

If you did like Rumi, I feel like you will enjoy Hallaj's poetry. They don't read the same, like one I feel was this introspective riddle and the other like watching fire dance around, but the themes in many cases were similar. 

I liked the book. I really did. 

But, having said this, the long introduction and explanations for every poem make this not a poetry-lovers book, but a historian's one. 

It's probably needed, many of us don't have a lot of experience with Sufi poems, but more often than not, I found myself skimming the explanations and only going back to them if I found a line that I couldn't relate to or seemed out of place. 

This would make an excellent textbook for that reason, but if that scholarly presence is something that bothers you, keep that in mind before grabbing this title. I still recommend it overall, though. 

Digital work inspired by reading the poetry book. I think I should do this with poetry
 regularly, these are fun and cathartic. 
"Don't mince words with us, for here is a finger that we have dyed with the blood of lovers."

-(42. "Dyed in Blood", "Hallaj: Poems of a Sufi Martyr" by Husayn ibn Mansur Hallaj; translated from the Arabic by Carl W. Ernst)

*credit to the photographer for the background image of the illustration* unsplash-logoChris Rhoads

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Because I Can Not Have Another Baby

My hormone shots are carefully timed to get the maximum dosage allowed because I can not have another baby. 

I can not have surgery to make sure I don't have another baby because having pulmonary hypertension makes that surgery a bad idea. I stopped breathing during labor with my last child, it's possible it will happen again if I have the surgery. And then there's the heart stuff, the crazy pathway connections to irregular beats because my heart remodeled itself without looking at the instructions.

So about two weeks short of every three months, I get another shot of progesterone. 

Because I can not have another baby.

The waiting room of your OB/GYN's office is a special hell for those of us who can't have the child(ren) we wanted. We're surrounded by happy pictures of mothers and babies. We're sometimes surrounded by actual babies, mostly tiny ones traveling with their mothers for those check-ups you get after you have a pregnancy and birth. Forgive us if we can't look you and your cute baby in the eyes. It doesn't have anything to do with you. 

It's a reminder, several times a year, that that door was closed to us forever. 

I realize the luck on my part here, I do, I promise. 

I was able to have children, I and my daughter even survived a really scary pregnancy and birth when it just as easily could have gone the other way. Many with my diagnosis don't get even half of what I have received. 

And my doctor is really understanding, and has a similar story. My appointments are fast, I'm not left staring at a sea of infants or being peppered with questions from any staff member if we will "try again". 

I know how lucky I was with all of this.

But, just like someone being happier somewhere else doesn't reduce your happiness, someone being sadder doesn't take away your pain. 

Of all the things that suck about being sick in this specific way, having that choice ripped out of my hands again (this time not in the form of a miscarriage) is the one that makes me the angriest, the saddest. 

I hope one day that our medical care and disease research reach a level where illness doesn't mean a high-risk gamble for your life if you want a child. 

But, until then, two weeks short of every three months, I get another shot of progesterone. 

And I try to look at the positives that having just my awesome three kids offers; more time to work, more time with my husband, easier travel, more time to focus on each child as we grow into the next stages of life...And I go shopping for them because that kind of retail therapy works for me. I forget until the next appointment how much this really hurts. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Review of "Humanity" by Ai Weiwei; edited by Larry Warsh

Being an artist sometimes means you feel powerless.

I mean who are you compared to the doctor treating the sick? Who are you compared to the person building homes and cars? Who are you compared to scientists discovering truths about our world?

Ai Weiwei is the best answer to that question. His work deals with questioning the norm of dehumanization, corrupt leadership, human suffering. Anyone who thinks artists can't make a difference doesn't know yet about people like Ai Weiwei. Unshakable, he creates even when it puts him in danger. He continues to get us to look at the hard things through art. 

So, when given the chance to review "Humanity", I couldn't turn that down.

It's a book of quotes dealing with the refugee crises, which Ai Weiwei has seen up close and personal. The quotes are powerful and collected under themes like "Freedom" that act as chapters in a way. 

It's a read that won't take you long but probably will bring tears to your eyes. But that's a good thing. A great thing.

The text focuses in on the understanding that borders are imaginary and any problem involving other human beings belongs to us all.

"We have to remember we have no choice. We’re either on the right side or on the wrong side. (106) "-"Humanity" by Ai Weiwei, edited by Larry Walsh. 

If you aren't familiar with him or his work, this is a good documentary to get you started. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Houston Writer Spotlight-Andrew Fairchild

We were lucky enough to have a local Houston writer, Andrew Fairchild, conduct a writing workshop for kids at our library. He donates a lot of his time helpings kids in the community and this was a great yet no pressure writing talk with a book-creating exercise at the end- and my kids loved it. 

His titles are all thought-provoking, from a funny story about a girl who loves her differences to themes like caretaking, courage, and cross-barriers friendship. They don't talk down to kids, as even in light-hearted notes, these are heavy subjects. They are great conversation starters about important stuff for young kids. 

If you're looking for some new children's books, you can find Fairchild's titles on his website at

I had to read to believe that Houston is a sea of writers, comparable to New York in numbers and talent. You would think I would have been less dense about it, as several of my friends are writers, but it's easy to think you are alone when many of us are in small groups or no groups at all. 

I'm mixed on the benefits of writers groups (it was great for me one time, but harmful the others, though it can be a way to connect) but I definitely feel like those of us in Houston should all cheer each other on. 

So support your local writers. Review their work, talk to your friends about it, buy their stuff. 

A Review of "The Creature Garden"

I always think the last art book I reviewed was the best one, and I'm always impressed by the works of the next book. If I could review only art books, I probably would. They are that fun. And important- they are that important! Art books are a wonderful source of inspiration and instruction on techniques and styles you might not have been exposed to yet. Easier than an art course and more fun than a lecture, anyone interested in art needs a good set of art books. 

So, another book you should add to your shelf is "The Creature Garden: An Illustrator's Guide to Beautiful Beasts and Fictional Fauna" (it's just as much fun as it sounds like it is in the title, seriously). Made by husband and wife team, Zanna Goldhawk and Harry Goldhawk, it is a collection of art instruction on mammals, insects, sea creatures, even fictional creatures in a very stylized and gorgeous manner. You don't have to paint these, or sketch these, or anything these- you can go with the medium you are comfortable with and that includes digital. 

The subject matter is fantastic, the tips on shaping creatures are wonderful and as much as I enjoyed it as an adult, this is perfect for budding artists. If you can get your kids one book to draw along with, let it be this one. The lessons are not a chore, the beauty of it is inspiring and I think it can lead some readers to great places in their artwork.

Don't pass up "The Creature Garden". 

You don't have to use the lessons to create an army of insane hybrid creatures,
but you totally can. You know, if you want to. I made this narwhalopus with strictly digital means and
still got some nice effects. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Classic Easter Book We Nearly Missed.

I've been through almost eleven Easters with kids, and I would have thought we had covered most of the classic Easter books by now. 

I was wrong, and I'm happy to be wrong.

Our library recently received a grant and with it came stacks of new books, I found a brand new shining copy with a cover so lovely that I couldn't pass it up. 

I'd never seen or heard of "The Country Bunny And The Little Golden Shoes" by Du Bose Heyward, and the book is a story the author used to tell his daughter.

It's magical. 

This is the Easter book every child needs in their basket, and I wish I'd of found it sooner.  

A little cottontail girl bunny grows up wishing to deliver Easter eggs, and her dream doesn't go away as she raises her large family of children. She had the heart for it all along and goes on not just to be an Easter Bunny, but one of the bravest bunnies of all. 

The artwork by Marjorie Flack (who wrote the famous classic "The Story of Ping") is that charming storybook type that is likely to make people my age feel all warm and fuzzy, and nothing could have fit this story more perfectly than that. 

I will say, it's longer and more complex than some of the younger Easter stories, with some full pages of text. That makes it perfect to share with older kids as well, and my nearly four-year-old was able to sit through the whole story with no problem. 

It's a rarity such beautiful lessons are contained in such short text, so if you weren't familiar with this book, please don't miss out on it. It definitely belongs as an Easter read. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Classics for Younger Readers-A Review of "Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare and Marguerite Tassi"

Classics, the world-changing ones, are a great idea to adapt for younger readers. I am 150% for Shakespeare snippets for kids. 

However, I feel like this particular book is the best fit for tweens and young teens, around 11-14 (but, calling this "Shakespeare for Tweens and Teens" probably isn't catchy). I'm basing this both on my older kids' reactions and the fact that I went Willy-Shakes CRAZY at about that age and would have really appreciated this volume as a gift right about then. Younger kids might read this, but I think the biggest pull and benefit of it will be felt for that age group. 

That out of the way, my gosh is this a lovely book. 

The illustrations are killer and with just the right amount of ink and whimsy. They fit perfectly without overwhelming the text and it is gorgeous together. 

All of your favorite verses are here; your Romeo and Juliet love poetry, your fairy speeches that make you question the ideas of life and theatre, and even the Macbeth-witch scene. My favorites are still the Julius Ceaser scenes, which are short, powerful, to the point. 

My older kids are just barely coming into the age-group that I feel will get the most out of this, but I think it's a safe bet for parents to stock this on the shelf for when the bard-frenzy does hit. It's actually beautiful enough I kind of just want it for my collection as an adult, anyway.