Sunday, May 15, 2011

The trouble with neighbors

"Good fences make good neighbors." Taken from the poem "Fences" by Robert Frost. (As a side note: Is it true that writers, by the very nature of their occupation--and I use the word both economically and metaphorically)--a breed apart, a breed most difficult to live with?) But that's an aside and better treated later.

My point is literal: good neighbors and not-so-good neighbors. Like Scarlett O'Hara, I consider land sacrosanct, If it's mine, ask before coming on it. Of course, if you're going to knock on my door, please do so without permission, but step back and don't present a threatening presence in my face when I open the door (although I always look out before opening). This is simple courtesy and an indicator of safety rules being followed in today's society.

My land juts down to the bayou--my house at the top of a 35 degree slope. My deck has steps that go down to what I call "Down Below." The man, two owners before me, built up this slope, leveled it off, and installed a swimming pool, meaning the top of my hill is flat. Imagine my surprise and deep dismay to open the gate to go "Down Below to work in my garden which is established along that incline only to discover a couple sitting just beyond my garden along the bayou fishing.

All I could think to say was: "I beg your pardon." The young man, maybe early college, turned and said, "Yes, m'am?" (That's how we talk and behave in the South towards people older than we are) No movement to move, no scurrying. Just "Yes, M'am?" as if he had every right to be there.

"Who are you and why are you in my yard?" I still maintained my composure.

"We're fishing. We always fish along the banks and have since we were little kids." He told me he was my neighbor's grandson. He explained that all the kids along the bayou had fished like buddies all these years. I wanted to say, well, not in the eight years I've lived here because I had never seen him up close. I maintain a casual, neighborly relation with the older man who lives next door. He is my mother's age. His wife died not long after I moved in. He and I used to chat the first couple of years, then he began having trouble walking and had to rely on one of that little walking devices. You know, you lean on its handles and its legs walk with you. It's basically a stabilizer. My mother now sometimes uses one.

Even though I saw the grandkids only from a distance, I could hear them every summer, all summer on the other side of the wooden fence, playing. laughing, and splashing in his swimming pool. I used to laugh with them at their antics, so basically I knew this young man. OK, I said, fish ahead.

I don't know who lighted up, but the smell of cigarette smoke disgusted me. Should I say something? I held my tongue, jumped up and went to the nearby nursery to purchase a few more plants. Lo and behold, let me repeat, lo and behold, when I returned, it wasn't just two of them--I bet there were a dozen people sitting in my back yard (Down Below) along the bank, fishing, and one even casting a net for crawfish. I thought, Oh my goodness! What the heck do I do now?

Luckily, the neighbor's son, with whom I have had many little chats, was there. A more even-keeled man you could not find. Someone asked, Do you want us to go? Well, yes, I did. I was about to do more digging and I didn't care for them to hear me grunt and groan as I worked--and yes, talk out loud to myself. I didn't say anything, but the son did, and they all dispersed. He stayed and we talked gardening and possums and raccoons and snakes for a while.

So far, the story ends well. If I go back down and find my garden all torn up, that will be another ending. But here's the kicker and the reason I maintained my cool: My older neighbor was the first person to move in a house on the street in this new subdivision way back 40 years ago. He had the developer change the initial property line. Imagine you're standing on the street right between the houses. Wouldn't you think that the line would go right between the two? Well, it does not. The neighbor in what I call a horrible act of selfishness had the developer slant that line to give him more of the bayou. His property line takes in a good third of what should be my back yard and, conversely, one-third of his front yard is "mine." You see what a hideous problem it is?

That owner who put in the swimming pool also built a pool house  as if the reasonable line were there. The entire back quarter of the pool house is on his legal property. And the dividing fence the previous owner of my house put up?--entirely on my neighbor's property!

My neighbor informed me of the property problems early on and has never said another word about any of it since then, but you may understand my reluctance to demand anything yesterday. Besides, pleasantness is always better and he has always been helpful to me!

If anyone reads this and has any suggestion about any legal way I can change the property line, I would be so happy to hear/read them!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Childhood's End--a classic sci-fi novel, but also apocalyptic

Childhood's End (Del Rey Impact)"Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke is one of those unforgettable novels. Nearly sixty years after it was written, the novel remains on student reading lists and sits among the classics, not only of science fiction, but also provocative literature.

For what is better than a novel which demands thought and a resulting discussion? Even though reading is a solitary experience, discussing novels creates a communal experience. "Childhood's End" provides great shared experience of many minds focused on one book.

That's just it: "Childhood's End" is more than science fiction--it is also apocalyptic, but most importantly, and, appropos to this discussion, it is a novel of ideas. The irony is how many of Clarke's ideas, or at least some form of his ideas, have come to fruition.

Case in point: the hit television series "V" features two of his visions: the Overlords ("aliens") and a hidden agenda. In "Childhood's End" Clarke focuses on one family: a mother and a father and two young children, who come to represent the uninitiated, the pure or nearly pure of mind (depending on age), the modeling clay, metaphorically speaking. For gradually, each child learns new skills which develop into powers.

In "V" the aliens have come for dark purposes; in "Childhood's End" for birthing purposes. Each time I taught this novel at the high school level, I always felt so sad at the end, when the children merged to become something else. It is this something else that I am here to review.

Note: Spoilers ahead!

In the last couple of years there has been much talk, much speculation, much re-examination of history and the Bible. Many believe the earth as we know it will end in 2012, according to the Mayan calendar system. Many talk of wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, the world in chaos, signifying that the Rapture is near and Christians will be taken up to Heaven, leaving nonbelievers on Earth to face what will come. There are second chances.

Clarke proposed some 60 years ago a scenario of the end. The physical world was the Earth with people still in chaos. The Overlords bring peace and prosperity. What they don't know is that this peace allows for the development of ESP and other paranormal activities of the children to heighten, then develop. There are even hints of "Lord of the Flies" with the movement of the children to a central location to become. Finally, their minds cocoon and when they leave their bodies, they join the Overmind "out there." Their leaving the Earth pulls out all energy and the Earth--pow! is obliterated.

Although Clarke is proposing something much grander than death and destruction, or even deconstruction--a figurative and possibly a literal joining with the Overmind as a wonderful thing. The movie version even shows a giant fetus, almost fully developed, floating in space, as if in preparation for the next phase of existence.

Although Clarke eschewed religion, allowing only possibly for a mild form of Buddhism, his final image of a pure mind about to join a super mind does have biblical overtones.

Reading and discussing with others ideas contained in a work of literature is a very communal experience. It brings people together for a sharing and exchange of ideas. It opens minds to new possibilities, or in a contrary manner, tears us further apart.  I offer this review as a gift--my mind to yours and whatever may happen afterward.

A favorite souvenir

A favorite souvenir
These are my two girls from Ireland!

Judy's shared items

Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)

  • *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
  • How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
  • In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  • *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
  • The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
  • Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
  • Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
  • Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
  • Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
  • *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
  • *Ruined by Paula Morris
  • Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  • Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  • Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
  • *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
  • Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
  • *The Giver by Lois Lowery
  • *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch


A semester course in one book about the Soviet Union. Click on image for my review.