Hunger Games

"Well, I know," she said. "You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies." -Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

Each year 24 tributes, one boy and one girl from each district, are sent to the Capitol to fight to the death on national television. These are the Hunger Games, a part of Suzanne Collins's trilogy -- The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and The Mockingjay.

Suzanne Collins drops you into District 12 in the country of Panem after the rebellion of the districts. The Capitol ruled Panem's thirteen districts--each specializing in some resource--until the Dark Days when the districts rebelled. The rebellion failed; the population was decimated, resources depleted, and District 13 destroyed. The Capitol's punishment is the Hunger Games. Reality television meets the Roman Colosseum.

Collins has readers experience the story through the first-person narrative of Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is a barbed unforgiving 16-year-old girl whose two thoughts are to protect her younger sister and to survive. She hunts for her family's food, making her an excellent archer and strong contender for the Games. She reads like the angsty Harry Potter from book five only less annoying.

Katniss is talented, two desirable men fall in love with her, through the Hunger Games she becomes famous, she is given an excellent stylist, she is an icon for the districts and a favorite pet for the capitol, and yet--I love Collins for this--Hunger Games is not a case of teenage wish fulfillment.

When we were younger, I had a friend who tried to break her arm. She had never broken a bone and coveted the attention that people got when they wore a cast. You could wish to be Katniss to receive the attention of a nation, but Collins will make you feel the break.

Katniss is often injured (to the point that I wonder if Collins really likes her), experiences horrors in the arena, and has emotional fall-out because of them. She has constant nightmares, wanders around looking for small spaces to fall asleep in, emotional episodes, and a possible psychotic break. The previous victors of the Games take to drinking or drug addiction--and this in an adolescent book. Not the all-better magical recovery of the movie Taken.

Katniss is glamorous, famous, and swooned-after, and Collins is good enough to write her situation honestly so that I do not want to be Katniss -- the girl who killed people to survive.

By the last book Katniss says, "I think that Peeta was on to something about us destroying one another and letting some decent species take over. Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children's lives to settle its differences."

And as for glamor: "All I can think of is the emaciated bodies of the children on our kitchen table as my mother prescribes what the parents can't give. More food. [...] And at the Capitol they're vomiting for the pleasure of filling their bellies again and again. Not from some illness of body or mind, not from spoiled food. It's what everyone does at a party. Expected. Part of the fun."

Sci-fi. Dystopic. Hunger Games is an unlikely sketch of what could be with harrowing notes of what already is.


Food in the Midwest

My mom's side of the family lives in Indiana, and my family has been coming here (Indianapolis) every Christmas since I was born. I hadn't thought about how Midwestern cuisine could be different than that of Colorado or the Northwest until I was reading in Bill Bryson's "The Lost Continent." Or at least I think that's where I was reading about it.

Bryson said something about Midwestern fair consisting of depression-era food: odd casseroles, white bread, plates of lunch meat, and every meal adorned with green olives. The olive part was what really caught my attention. Every supper we eat (and it's called "supper") is buffet-style with an option of olives and sweet pickles. I thought my grandpa bought them because I like them (and that may still be the case), but Bryson knew about the olives! Maybe it's cultural.

I spent a half hour looking through the book to find the exact quote without success. According to Google there is no use of the words "olive", "olives", "pickle", or "pickles" in the entire book. (What would olives have to do with the Depression anyway?)

We had cheeseburger pie two nights ago. It's hamburger, tomato paste, onion, and Italian seasoning covered in mozzarella cheese. All this happens in a pie tin, hence the name, and is drizzled with a tomato-paste sauce according to the diner's taste.

Spaghetti noodles make unexpected appearances. We had lunch and opened presents with Mitch's mom's side of the family. There was a spaghetti-based pasta salad. And my favorite food at Grandma's is her chili with tomato paste, hamburger, chili pepper, and spaghetti noodles.

Midwesterners like their beer light and macro brewed. It wouldn't make sense for them to drink anything that would take their attention off the Colts game they're watching. Even Fat Tire has only made a recent and slight appearance in this area. Mitch's cousin allegedly doesn't care for hops.

In an attempt to spread the canned-food love, I have made my beloved cherry-pineapple pie (quick-acting tapioca balls, a can of sour pitted cherries, canned pineapple, sugar, almond extract) for Washingtonian housemates without much success.

I'll be spending a rare New Year's outside of Indiana and intend to make the traditional and delicious Polish Mistakes: sausage cooked in Velveeta cheese placed on pieces of rye bread and baked in the oven.

I had thought it a bit extreme that the second thing anybody would say about Mitch's cousin was, "She's a vegan. She doesn't eat anything." Veganism: more restricting than vegitarianism, but not unheard of. It took me writing this blog to realize that a Midwest meal is never without meat, cheese, and eggs--sometimes all three in the same dish. A vegan from the Midwest is kind of like a cow that only eats strawberries.


Over Lunch

We had spent lunch over crepes and coffee. The Creperie was about as tall as it was wide. A shelf with bottles--Glenlivet, Chimay, Bombay gin--crowned the walls, under which was rose-colored wallpaper. We sat at a small table, white linen under glass, in the corner. We had cleaned our plates and were drinking our second cups of coffee--water too, with lemon.

"We had a dog, when M. and I got married, a toy dachshund named Mary Collins" R.D. told me.

"Growing up we couldn't have a dog (and we tried three times) because my father was so unpleasant with them. He was gone most of the time, but when he came home he was so grumpy that we had to get rid of each.

"My father had an airplane, so when M. and I moved he picked us up in it. I didn't think about it before hand, and I brought Mary Collins with us, if I had thought of it.... No, I would have brought her anyway.

"When we were packing to move we couldn't find her. We called her name and looked all over the house. We finally found her already in the car. She was not going to be left behind. Smart girl.

"In the cabin of the plane there were four seats that narrowed towards the front where there was a ledge and a shelf. Mary Collins, before we did anything, went pip pip pip and curled up beneath the shelf. She stayed there the whole flight on her own accord. She didn't yelp or anything. By the time we got to Florida, my father had undergone a complete transformation. He had Mary Collins sit on his lap--and I had never seen him let a dog sit on his lap before. Because Mary Collins knew how to fly, he figured she was alright with him.

"He liked her so much that when we moved to Italy my parents offered to keep her because she was too old to move with us."

We talked about other things, but before we left I prompted R.D. to talk about her childhood some more.

"Everything was different then," R.D. said.

"Like what?"

"Everything," she shook her head.


"I was a little girl on an oil field in East Texas. We were a minority numerically, a part of the population. There were mostly blacks, and all the blacks were servants, and we didn't call them blacks."

She looked at me.

"I was just a little girl on an oil field in Texas," she said. "I didn't know to dream. If you had told me then that my life would be what it was and is, I--"

She didn't finish. And if there is, somewhere, a congregation of our younger selves, I wonder what they are thinking.


a christmas rambling.

I know
Where to find cookie cutters
in the shapes of:
pigs, ducks, cowboy boots, and sunglasses.

The shepherd who watches his flock by night,
is not watched by anyone
except for a few, brief glances
from oblivious sheep.

After the drive-by shooting,
Erika watched her cousin die.
Mary was young and hopeful.
Joseph planned to leave her.
Erika was nine years old.

A sixty-year-old woman roller blades
and glides about in neon colors.
The old widow Anna prayed her lifetime
to see the son of man.

Black watches White chase the sunset.
Sonya wept.

Joy to the Word, the Lord has come.
Let Earth receive her King.


The S-Word

I help/observe a classroom for Mrs. B, a five foot tall (and that is probably being generous, I'm taller) Canadian woman with a loud voice, a very pregnant belly, and a spunky personality. The ratio between her small stature and her bursting stomach makes you feel as if you should stand next to her at all times in case she tips over. She is a great teacher. We have the same Uggs. (The blackish/greyish knitted kind, not the obnoxiously bland, beige ones.)

Yesterday she had a substitute, Mr. Griffin. I walk into the classroom and introduce myself. I told him I help run the after-school program for the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club at the middle school, blah blah blah. He took one look at me, saw a young Jr. higher and dismissed everything I said. I sat down and snickered. If he can't have a conversation with an older person who resembles a jr. higher, he'll be dominated by the real ones.

The kids see Mr. Griffin, ignore the seating arrangement, and talk with their friends. Their confidence level escalates. The last bell rings, no one has taken a seat except for me.

"Class, please stop talking."


"Class, please stop talking."

"Hello class, shhhh, I have some advice for you. Shhh..."

The noise has died down at this point. He's an older, white American male who lives in Bellevue. As far as the students can tell, his entire life has surmounted to substitute teaching. They already have little respect for the guy. But they are all excited. What he mentions in the next few minutes might provide them with a chance to say some wise-ass comment. This unique accomplishment would crown them the god of the classroom.

He takes the silence as an encouragement.

"Class, I am sorry but we have to wait for everyone to be quiet in order for us to begin. Sad to say it is a requirement now. We have to wait for everyone. Class, this is why, shhh.. it is because of No Child Left Behind. My first piece of advice is to be quiet....

Hey you, please listen...

...is to be quiet in the classroom because schools have to wait for every student before they can move forward. I know it is frustrating, but it is the rule. I personally think it's a good rule."

I squirm in my chair. I have no idea why he's talking about No Child Left Behind. He is blaming his inability to start class on a policy which he eventually claims to support. Everyone including himself, I think, is confused.

Phoebe, a girl who I've never heard speak up the entire time I've worked in their classroom proudly blurts out, "Sir, what does that have to do with anything?"

(that made me happy.)

"Shhh.... please, I need to give you the second piece of advice."

"But you didn't answer my que..."

"Enough, please. The second piece of advice, and this will help you in succeeding in school, you must write everything down. Have any of you written down my name?"

His advice would have been helpful if he'd said the opposite. If I had written everything down in college my hand would no longer function. He points to the white board where he wrote, "Mr. Griffin" in small letters. Unfortunately, he wrote his name within the blue masking-tape square Mrs. B devoted to addressing information for the Period 5 Social Studies. This is a period 6 AVID class.

Andy, a very sweet kid, raises his hand and said,

"Mr. Griffin, we aren't supposed to write down what's in that box becau...."

"You are not listening to my advice. Remember the very first thing I said about being quiet and listening? Instead you were not talking."

"You are right, I wasn't talking, I don't get...."

"I mean you were talking. Shhh... I really like you kids."

Kam'Ryn laughs. She whispers in my ear, "No you don't you old fudgebag."

He looks over at Kam'Ryn and said, "You know, it's a really bad thing when the Sub knows your name."

What a sad thought.

He eventually stopped trying to be profound and gave them a worksheet that made them answer questions about an accomplishment they are proud of and a time they made a mistake and felt really bad about it.

These kids can be rude, disrespectful, and ridiculous. But they also don't want to be fed bullshit. They put up a front, duh, but adults have to see through that. We are taking them away from the really important things: their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, drama, skating, dancing, smoking weed and we substitute all of that for politically correct ashes. What keeps adults from approaching conversations with students about things that make sense?


The Things I find at Work

I have two samples that accurately depict my daily life. The first sampling was a crumpled note found on the cafeteria floor. The second was given to me because I told one of my girls that I liked her poetry. Despite my own tendencies to punctuate incorrectly (which drives Amy up the wall), all of the spelling or punctuation errors belong to the original writers.

Hey. Hi. What up.
This longggg note is for youuu! heeheeheehahahahohoho :) How was your homework today yayaya? Mine was/is okayyayay :) I'm in health. We're talking about cheesecake, cup noodles, pizza, chips, OH YUM! When I give this to youu, it'd be lunch timeeee. haha. Now we're talking about sugar now. And how it's chemically made. I think you're in science; RIGHT?! Whatta stalker I ammm heeee :) fat heart filled with fat love. WE'RE TALKING ABOUT FAT; fat people, fat foods, fat sugar?! Corn Syrup? I'm so randomomom. hahahahaha. "Dicks Sporting Goods" i'm such a pervert :) lalalalala What do you want for Christmas?! i can't believe Michelle and Mike are going out :( haha, jkay :) I don't like Mike anymore. But i might change my mind when they break up. more than halfway there! Woot! Gahhh, I'm hungry. Jeez, i need to EAT! LALALALA gotta go! Wait no. nevermind! wait bye.



Open You'r Eyes
Please, open you'r eyes...
turn on you'r tv and tell me
what you see
do you see happiness
do you see beauty
do you see sunshine
Please open you'r eyes
open you'r blinds and tell me
what you see
do you see the feauture
do you see happy kids
do you see sunshine
or not or not or not or not or not or not or not
well wake up
open you'r eyes
nothing above, thats for sure!
our lives are made of our fears!


By Monday I'll be Gone

Growing up I had a premonition that I would die at 18. I think this was because the last semi known point of my existence was graduating high school. After high school I could not envision what would happen next, so I figured nothing would.

The one thing I did anticipate, if I managed to live through graduation and on through college to a point where I had no more educational hoops to jump through and had acquired my long-pined-for independence, was that I would grab life by the balls, so to speak. I would skate on my independence, travel to different countries, and live where I knew nobody. I couldn’t wait to do something on my own that was, for the first time, not a scripted track of “The Things White Middle-Class American Youths are Supposed to Do.”

And here I am. Bachelors degree. Living with Mitch. Still in Spokane.

I’ve been looking into Teaching English as a Foreign Language programs. Ideally, if you have your TEFL you can teach English in a lot of countries. Problem is, I’ve researched these programs and they seem to be either A) a little spendy and not worth the time or B) too spendy. Then if you get your certificate you have to get hired and if you get hired you have to figure out how to get a VISA. All the while, I’d be paying rent and loans and… I know this sounds like whining. Getting over seas is probably worth it – and it wouldn’t be much of an adventure if there weren’t risks and sacrifices involved.

What I’ve been wondering lately is if moving to another country is missing the point. Even though I’m not groping life like I thought I would be, I’m not bored. There are books to read, people to hang out with, mini dramas, and beautiful if brief images. And there are eggs to cook and flowers to plant and paintings and people saying things. There would be those things in any country, and whether Americans, Germans, or Costa Ricans, I’d be alternately astonished by their complexity and wishing to banish their existence.

And what if a meaningful and interesting life is more of a sitcom, with four cameras and three sets, than a Peter Jackson film? The point being to get to know those characters in my life while experiencing very little plot? But of course that could be the reasoning of someone settling for a quiet ride down monotony lane. I’m not sure yet.


Today at the Bus Stop

There was a couple, a white man and a black woman. They were older and wore assorted layers to keep out the slush. They brought toilet paper, paper towels, a crock pot and a green bag from Yokes into the bus stop, which was cubed in with glass and had metal benches that froze my butt. The man produced a pouch of tobacco and rolled himself a cigarette, and the woman's voice was low and murmuring. When he stood up she said something I couldn't hear.

"Because you can't smoke in here," he said, perfectly audible.

"I can," she said, like a come-on.

With the cigarette between he his teeth he pointed above me and said, "Read that sign. It says NO SHMOKING."

Then they stood outside together and left me with their groceries.