Review: Still Living in Town

Still Living in TownStill Living in Town by Kevin Fitzpatrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still Living In Town
By Kevin FitzPatrick

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

A friend suggested I give this book of poems by a local author a read, and the first thing I wondered was, do I know this particular Tina? She’s a featured character throughout the collection and boy does that woman put in an incredible amount of work into, well, everything she does!
Author FitzPatrick makes no bones about his on-again, off-again love/hate of his weekend farm life with Tina. And I should mention, this is not (my definition) the normal type of rhyming, cleverly paced, poetry of yesteryear. This stuff is called free verse and in my opinion, is a type of flash-nonfiction. Tiny bites of story that may, or may not wrap up in the end.
Give this one a try:

“Five o’clock, Sunday morning,
Tina and I wake to rain and clatter outside.
Our dogs—a poodle, a rat terrier,
and a huge part-retriever mutt—tear out to a ladder
extending up the side of a full wagon of hay.
They leap up like ravenous sharks.
Whoever’s up there best not slip.

Enough. No barking. Down. It’s only Don.
It’s Don Roberts, seventy-eight years old with a bad knee.
who in the dim morning light and rain
appears to be fifty feet up as he crawls
and pulls a plastic tarp across the hay.
Katie! Betsy! Stella! Enough! You know Don.

He secures the tarp and climbs down,
telling us he drove over with a tarp and ladder
when he learned from Joni we ran out of time
to stack our last load of hay in the barn.

The dogs lick and nose Don’s hands. He comes in
for coffee, and then he’s off to deliver
vegetables in Minneapolis and then back
to the other side of Menomonie to see John the potter.

I reflect to Tina after he leaves,
I sure hope I’m that active and getting around
when I’m Don Roberts’ age.
I don’t know why you’re hoping that, Tina responds.
You’re not that way now.”

This reluctant weekend country boy makes it pretty darn clear he has a love/hate of farm life and sees it as being a smidgen less than a preferred way to idle away his time. Save for the fact that it does seem to orbit around the mysterious and obviously very industrious, Tina.
Though this is a writing form I have had little experience with, it’s attraction for artfully expressing a chunk of story in quick, concise snapshots is clear and interesting and very compelling. Even though there wasn’t a single poetic rhyme to be had, FitzPatrick did manage some smooth pentameters of alternating iambic as well as anapestic feet. Yes, I spoke with Mister Google and all things pentameter were explained.
I think this, perhaps, sums up the joy for our author as he leaves the farm and returns to living in town…
“She got up to the mailbox finally, turned her vehicle toward the highway and stars and disappeared.”
• Available through the MORE system
• Try poetry!
• Do you have anapestic feet?

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Review: WONDER

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

By R.J. Palacio

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Funny. Not the book, but the age limit of the readers suggested; 8-12 years. I’m a tad older and got totally hooked. In fact, I have had my family read it and you should too! Well, only if you like a book that starts out with a kid getting piles of love from his family, then leaves the safe home-school nest to embark on journey in public schools. Namely, the 5th grade. There he meets the harsh reality of humans at their worst. Then the story gets…
Meet Auggie (August) Pullman. When our story opens he is ten years old and has had over 27 surgeries, mostly on his face. Born with a rare disease, he has had to endure stares from everyone meeting him for the first time. Some run from him screaming.
The disease he has is called mandibulofacial dysostosis or Treacher Collins Syndrome. One in 50,000 American births, which equals approximately 80 babies are born every year with it. The disease affects the development of bones and other facial tissues. Hallmarks of the syndrome are underdeveloped cheek bones, a small jaw and chin, a cleft pallet and eyes that slant downward, as well as an unusual ear formation.
Auggie was raised in the privileged, educated, upper-middle class neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. The book opens with him starting a new school that happens to be within walking distance from his swanky townhouse. Since he had been home-schooled, his world had been small and safe. Now, in this new and foreign place, his once contained life is blasted open in good as well as bad ways. The kids he encounters in classes and the lunchroom and even the restroom, are the backbone to what shapes the real guts of ‘Wonder.’
One clever and useful tool author Palacio uses is to have not only Auggie, but his sister and several of his close friends, narrate the story, all in first person, from their point of view. This paints a broader picture of the complex and oftentimes emotionally-charged relationships they have with one another as their lives intertwine with Auggie’s. The story takes a major jolt when Auggie’s class of fifth graders go away for an overnight school trip which goes horribly off the rails.
This story arc (not telling) culminates with Auggie moving from being shunned, avoided and sadly rejected, to stepping into something pretty darn wonder-full.
Today, more than EVER we need to be reminded that after all is said and done and undone and redone within the political web, we simply have to find a way to be kind again. Though this novel hit a slump in the middle with an unstintingly obsessive focus on Auggie’s struggles in school, one thing shined steady and true. The power of kindness. No matter what face you have been given—there is a heart inside that needs what you need: LOVE.

• Try kindness
• One size fits all
• You matter

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Review: Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand AloneBraving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Braving The Wilderness
The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
By Brene Brown

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

To be honest, the title threw me, the second one more effectively describes what this book is really about. Author Brown is no stranger to self-help books and happens to be good friends with the queen of self-help, Oprah, and a regular guest on her show. The book’s main thrust is of our need to belong, how it was lost and ways to find it again. Given the increasing numbers of Americans suffering from loneliness, this topic is extremely important for all of us to look at more closely.
Brown is a qualitative grounded theory researcher. It’s a pretty vague job description and allows her to mush together many different forms of research and gear it to her own goal. In this particular book, her focus was on “…trying to understand what we call the main concern of study participants. When it comes to belonging…What are people trying to achieve? What are they worried about? They want to be a part of something—to experience real connection with others—but not at the cost of their authenticity, freedom, or power.”
One of the main issues so many she interviewed expressed was that of being ‘spiritually disconnected,’ a diminishing sense of shared humanity. What seems to bind us together now is shared fear and disdain, not common humanity, shared trust, respect or love. Emerging from their responses, four elements of what Brown describes as ‘true belonging.’

1. People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.
2. Speak Truth to BS. Be Civil.
3. Hold Hands. With Strangers.
4. Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

Early on I was a little concerned as to exactly what was intended by spirituality. In no way is this meant as anything remotely related to any particular religion. Brown is careful to define it as recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion, a cornerstone of some, but not all religions.
Once it became clear that this was a universal all-encompassing concept that we all, as humans, crave—to belong—it was simply a matter of defining how we became so separated from one another.
“In the case of the United States, our three greatest fault lines—cracks that have grown and deepened due to willful neglect and a collective lack of courage—are race, gender, and class.”
The ‘cracks’ that have driven a wedge into the basic reason we are experiencing such a major shift away from belonging is something we are all very familiar with. From Black Lives Matter to all the bathroom issues to the One-Percenters, we are overwhelmed with messages and constant reminders of our vast differences.
The majority of the book focuses on an expansion of the four elements mentioned earlier and is well worth exploring. However, it could have been edited into a much shorter read as several of the antidotes loll into lecture-mode and had me skimming. The bottom line is something we all know to be true and the main reason there is a collective, soul-deep desire to belong.
“We are wired for connection. But the key is that, in any given moment of it, it has to be real.”
As in person, not online. Imagine that.

• Hang-up and hang-out
• Re-join offline living
• Show up, in person

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Review: Evicted. Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American CityEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Poverty And Profit In The American City
By Mathew Desmond

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

“Evicted follows eight families—some black, some white; some with children, some without—swept up in the process of eviction. The evictions take place throughout the city, (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) embroiling not only the landlords and tenants but also kin and friends, lovers and ex-lovers, judges and lawyers, dope suppliers and church elders. Eviction’s fallout is severe. Losing a home sends families to shelters, abandoned houses, and the street. It invites depression and illness, compels families to move into degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods, uproots communities, and harms children. Eviction reveals people’s vulnerability and desperation, as well as their ingenuity and guts.”
A Pulitzer Prize winning, incredibly researched, foot-noted-to-death, documentary on an issue we could have solved years ago. But sadly, we have chosen to imagine it away, to tell ourselves that ‘those people’ are simply lazy and unmotivated and given any kind of help (handouts) would only add to their already easy life of living off the system. Right?
You couldn’t be more wrong.
This book is filled with well-documented facts and figures which help illustrate this major American quagmire of inner-city poverty which is directly related to eviction. Right now, at this very moment, in Milwaukee, a city of fewer than 105,000 renter households, landlords evict 16,000 adults and children each year. Which comes to 16 families creeping through the court system a DAY! Read this next quote, then read it again.
“If incarceration has come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction is shaping the lives of women. Poor black men are locked up. Poor black women are locked out.”
Of course, you wonder, how can this be? How can so many Americans end up evicted from their home? The equation is unfortunately simple, when you look deeper.
“Families have watched their incomes stagnate, or even fall, while their housing costs have soared. Today, the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates over 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on. Millions of Americans are evicted every year because they can’t make the rent.”
To shed some light on author Desmond’s method of collecting all this data (and there is a ton) is to learn the meaning of ethnography. To him, it’s what you do when you try to understand people by allowing their lives to mold your own as fully and genuinely as possible. He did this by building rapport with the people he wanted to know better and followed them over a long stretch of time, observing and experiencing what they did, working and playing alongside them, while at the same time recording as much action and interaction as he could until he began to move like they did, talk like they talked, think like they think and feel something like they did. He did that, and so much more.
Desmond does offer compelling, tenable and sensible solutions to once and for all bringing this seemingly unsurmountable issue to a place of hope. But in a stark closing sentence the truth is what we need to embrace before change can unfold;
“No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”

• It’s up to us.
• Why isn’t this book taught in public school?
• After all, home is the center of life.

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Review: The Last to See Me

The Last to See MeThe Last to See Me by M. Dressler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Last To See Me
By M Dressler

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Who doesn’t like a ghost story with a twist? Or, in this particular story, several twists, and some nasty turns, add a tragic love story, a blood-thirsty rose bush and, of course, the ghost. Welcome to Benito, California, home of the renowned Lambry House and where most of our story unfolds. Ellen DeWight, short, firecracker real-estate agent representing the Lambry property, is showing the place when our story begins and Emma Rose Finnis makes her ghostly debut.
“…He reached out for his wife, his love. But she wasn’t there. Because a blackness, a blackness only a ghost can summon, was opening underneath them. His wife was near his feet, being pulled under. Pulling at him…He fell to his knees with her. He felt her wet, sinking cheeks. He reached for her arms. But his hands fluttered, thrashing, in something else. Water, water rising all around them.”
Enter Phillip Pratt, ghost exterminator extraordinaire, armed with his magic wrist-thingy, we are literally off and de-haunting! This tale seems to be set in the near future when ghosts are considered something in the realm of a pest to be gotten rid of. Cleaned is the term author Dressler offers and how this is done exactly is slowly revealed as the layers of history behind Emma Rose’s need to haunt the Lambry House are peeled away.
When Emma Rose was a young nineteen-year-old, she drew the attentions of Quint Lambry. He, belonging to the well-to-do Lambry clan versus Emma, a mere washer-woman of a lowly class, set Quint’s mothers mind to task. She had to get her son’s obvious intentions banished from that wretched Emma. So, off to Lighthouse Point Emma was sent to become housekeeper for the assistant lightkeeper and his growing family.
Though Quint does find his way out to the Point, and visits Emma Rose nearly every week in the beginning of her exile, things soon spin out of control. You’ll have to find out for yourself what sends dear Emma to her haunting prison of the undead.
Dressler does weave what could be her own version of how love can undo you. How it can become this thing that blinds, that quite literally becomes your ruin, the ghost is ultimately the haunted until set free. The imperfect metaphor for love’s much darker side.
“I wonder if the living understand how ghostly love is, truly, how hard it is to put your finger on it…Is it love when your feet move faster and the lane seems suddenly twice as long…Is it love when you see the future stretching out in front of you, endless as the sea?”
Though I did have to re-read the final chapter in order to grasp all that Pratt had set loose in his haste to exorcise the Lambry House of its ghostly inhabitants, I was happy to learn that in the end, it was Emma Rose who—

• You’ll have to ask Emma
• Happy Haunted Halloween!

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