Weeks 15 – 18: A bug, a backlog and some Bollywood

We all knew it would happen.  I fell behind. I caught a bug, there were doctor’s appointments, antibiotics, follow-up tests, NO COFFEE (due to the nature of the bug, not the drug) and lots of paranoid webmd’ing.

I got the word last week from the doctor, I appear to be infection-free and only battling a small Vitamin D deficiency.  So, I’ve been trying to get back on track.

In the past month, I did try a new workout and a new recipe in between freaking out.  I also only had to skip a couple of the titles on my booklist (Great Expectations and Time Traveler’s Wife…I’m sorry.)

The Workout

I mean, on a shelf with Jane Fonda and step aerobics, this was a no-brainer.

I found this Bollyrobics workout dvd in my library.  It was a breath of fresh air.  There’s actually three workouts on it.  I’ve only done one so far, but plan to do the other two.

No, that’s not triplets pictured.  It’s the same gal, tripled.  I don’t know why.  But you know what’s awesome?  The instruction was all in voice over, so it could have been recorded and released in multiple languages.  I feel like such a citizen of the world.

The moves themselves (I did the Chaiya Chaiya workout) were very user-friendly.  The only challenging part was matching hand-feet coordination on some of the moves, which is a challenge I can really get behind.  Perhaps this is a sign I should be pushing myself more physically?  Sure.  But I didn’t feel like an elephant in a tutu for once, which I’m chalking up in this workout’s favor.

It was very similar to the belly dance workout.  Perhaps I just need a little Eastern flair?  One would think I’d be much more keen on yoga than I am.  Oh, well.

The Recipe

I also made this Pot roast recipe to much fanfair.  I’ve been congratulated by my spouse and my family members for it, far more than I think is appropriate, honestly, considering all I did was put some meat and potatoes in a pot and check on it once an hour for six hours.  But the results were an astounding success.  Jason took it to work the rest of the week.  There was a day he even ate it for lunch and dinner.  I’d say my work here is done.

The Books

I think the Grapes of Wrath is where things started to go off the rails.  I started it right after I finished The Brethren, aiming to have plenty of time to finish it in a week.  It took me more like two.  Almost three, really.  The length was on the longer side, not terribly long like The Passage, but the guts of the book…

I knew going into it that the story was set in The Great Depression, so I expected some pretty high levels of bleakness.  But, dear God…I was not prepared for what the family goes through.  If you’ve never read it, it follows a family of sharecroppers who are bought out of the their farm and forced to move west to find work picking crops in California, where flyers they’ve seen have told them men are much needed.  Once they arrive it becomes clear that the advertisements lied in order to drive up the supply of workers so the farms can drive down the cost of wages.

On the way to California their truck breaks down multiple times.  A couple of family members die due to the extreme conditions/malnutrition.  Once they find work, the wages are so low everyone has to work, even the small children and, at one point, expectant mother.  They rarely, rarely catch a break and even when they do, there’s always strings attached, as the cost of human life plummets:

     “It ain’t gonna do no good to set aroun’ an’ starve.  I don’ know what to do.  If a fella owns a team a horses, he don’t raise no hell if got to feed ’em when they ain’t workin’.  But if a fella got men workin’ for him, he jus’ don’t give a damn.  Horses is a hell of a lot more worth than men.  I  don’ understan’ it.”

I know I post on Facebook a lot about injustices and the income inequality/corporate greed in our society.  (And I maintain that books like Grapes of Wrath could be a warning to the situation we are building now with massive corporate tax cuts and deregulation).  But the book made me thankful for the following things:

1.  Minimum wage.  Even though it needs to be raised, at least we know it can’t get any lower.  Unless you’re being paid under the table, of course, like many undocumented immigrants.  If you are one of those people who is angry at undocumented immigrants, maybe read this book and consider going to pick produce for a living–it’ll give you a LOT of perspective.

2.  Social security – Grandma and Grandpa Joad could have used it.

3.  Modern medicine – dear God!  Why couldn’t any of these people find a hospital???

The infinitely quicker read Less Than Zero was maybe not the best book to follow The Grapes of Wrath and perhaps it’s perfect companion piece.  The book opens with the words “People are afraid to merge” speaking of the ubiquitous traffic problems in LA.  It takes place in the 80’s and follows a young rich teen named Clay who returns to his LA home after his first semester in college on the East Coast.  There’s a lot of drugs, a lot of booze and sex and every page is sprinkled with apathy.  I had a hard time keeping track of who Clay’s friends were, because they were mostly all equally awful people who got trashed and wanted to watch other people suffer (a snuff film is a major plot point).

The reason I say it wasn’t the best follow up and perhaps the perfect follow-up to Grapes of Wrath is that they are such dichotomous worlds.  The first is about a group of people who have nothing, who only get more human the more and more things are taken away from them and the second is…exactly the opposite.  The characters in Less Than Zero have pretty much everything and it makes them miserable, horrible people, who say things like “It’s just easier if I don’t care.”

I’ve often wondered if it truly is a curse to be rich because once you have enough money to buy and do everything you want, there’s nothing left to want.  I imagine you’d feel quite empty.  Being poor is just so noble, right?

I finished A Farewell to Arms right as the clock turned past midnight into Memorial Day.  I actually poured myself a glass of the Larceny bourbon leftover from Crime and Punishment as an homage to one of America’s favorite alcoholics.

I was honestly excited to finally read Hemingway.  For a year in New York, I worked for one of the Hemingway estate’s attorneys and so I’d always felt sort of bad having such an affinity for the man without ever having read any of his work (The same goes for Fitzgerald…the same lawyers represented F. Scott Fitzgerald and I’ve never read Gatsby…I have to make sure he’s on the list this year).  I can’t say I was crazy about A Farewell to Arms (or the women in it – I don’t believe it passes the Bechdel test), but I did have some very touching takeaways.

I actually had to SparkNotes the chapters as I got further into the book because…he writes so sparsely that it can easily feel that there’s nothing of substance in the prose.  Then again, I’d always heard…that’s the point of Hemingway – let the Thing stand for what it is, no flowery language, very little emotion.  Is that why men like it so much?  I get it and I trained myself to appreciate it, but I’m not sure the style is for me.  I’m a few chapters into Lolita for this week and already sucking the marrow out of the language Nabokov uses.

But I’m really glad I read this on Memorial Day.  Facebook reminded me several times over that Memorial Day is not a day to thank Veterans for their service (that’s Veteran’s Day…or every day, depending on your outlook), but to remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.  Was A Farewell to Arms the best book to read on Memorial Day?  Not necessarily.  All Quiet on the Western Front probably would have fit that motif a little better.  But, considering where I was on Memorial Day, this book was a nice tribute.

I went to Riverview Cemetery in my mother’s hometown Aurora, Indiana for their annual Memorial Day ceremony to honor those we lost in combat.  I have several veterans in my family tree, three of which served in WWII.  One died on a submarine and has a VFW post named in his honor, but another died several years later by his own hand (just like Hemingway).  I visited both their graves before the ceremony and, while the keynote speaker was making his address, it occurred to me: yes, today was a day to honor the former who died on the submarine, but it was also a day to honor the latter.  Because, while he may not have been killed in the war, it was more than likely the war that killed him.

Tom Ward, a Korean war veteran (and friend of my grandfather’s), gave the keynote address at the cemetery, quoting Ernie Pyle.

It is estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide every single day.  After A Farewell to Arms, I will think of them every Memorial Day from now on.  The most quoted line from the book is:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Sounds like a really uplifting, motivational, positive quote, right?  Here’s the full excerpt:

If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.  The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.  But those that will not break it kills.  It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.  If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

It seems to me, Hemingway was the ultimate cynic.  And that I can definitely relate to.

Next week:

Book: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Workout: Tampa Twerk Dance Workout by Keaira LaShae

Recipe: Martha Stewart’s Croque Monsieur