Wednesday 27 February 2019

Sing, Unburied, Sing

I've been meaning to read Jesmyn Ward for ages. I first heard about her with Salvage the Bones, which was published back in 2011. And I'm pretty sure that is sitting about in my physical TBR somewhere. But naturally I haven't read it. There has been a lot of hype about Sing, Unburied, Sing since it was published in 2017. It won big name prizes and Obama named it as one of his best reads of the year. I was interested initially, but then put off a bit as I'd heard a lot of people referring to it as a ghost story of sorts, and that's not really my thing. Or I thought it wasn't, but maybe it is.

Recently I was organising my TBR for a short holiday in Thailand. And of course I wanted to take lots of books with me, but my friend had booked us as carry on only! One small suitcase with a 7kg limit- not much room for books in there. I ended up taking two books (and only reading one of them), and a whole stack of audiobooks on my phone. I listened to about three quarters of Sing, Unburied, Sing on the way to Kuala Lumpur and then finished it off after I got home as I was too busy holidaying to listen to any audiobooks while I was away. As is pretty much always the way.

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a story told by three narrators. It is Jojo's 13th birthday in the opening pages of the book. He lives with his grandparents and younger sister Kayla in the rural Gulf Coast of Mississipi. His grandfather, Pop, slaughters a goat in the first few pages, it is such a memorable start, and was the sample I heard on Audible, and had me hooked, and keen to listen further as it was both grisly and beautiful at the same time. Jojo's mother Leonie is around but not particularly involved in the lives of her kids. Leonie is the second narrator, and she is self-absorbed and horrid. The third narrator is Richie, a young boy who was in prison with Jojo's grandfather when he was a young man. Richie died many years ago, and yes he's a ghost.

Jojo's father Michael is about to be released from prison after three years away, having previously worked on the BHP Deepwater Oil Rig which exploded in 2010. I can't remember that we get told why Michael has been in gaol but Leonie and her friend and colleague Misty embark on a road trip with the kids to pick him up. Apparently the multiple narrative voices and road trip across Mississipi evoke Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, a book I haven't ever been brave enough to pick up. The road trip was one of the less interesting storylines of the book for me.

While Sing, Unburied, Sing is a "ghost story", it's so much more than that. I was surprised by how much I accepted the ghostly aspects, and that they really didn't bother me at all. To me it is a book primarily about race, and also class, poverty, drugs, incarceration, violence, illness, death and dying. It is great story telling, and beautiful writing. But it's an unusual book in that I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read the book, rather than listened to it. Once I settle on an audiobook I'm usually grateful that I listened to it. 

I really loved the narrator of Jojo's chapter, but found the woman doing Leonie very distracting. She was all Eartha Kitt and breathy, which didn't sound like Leonie at all to me, and I heard the narration more than I heard the story. I would like to read Sing, Unburied, Sing sometime. I think I'd enjoy it even more second time through, and also as a read.

This little passage stuck with me
Some days later I understood that he was trying to say that gettin grown means learning how to work that current, learning when to hold fast, when to drop anchor, when to let it sweep you up. 
as it echos that sage advice of Kenny Rogers from so long ago ....

Jesmyn Ward answering questions about Sing, Unburied, Sing on PBS. 

Jesmyn Ward author event at Shakespeare and Company in Paris. We're I've been quite a few times, but never to an event. Well not yet. Jesmyn calls Sing, Unburied, Sing a book about death, and that is one of the reasons why she opened with a death. 

Tuesday 19 February 2019

A Zero Waste Life

I'd seen A Zero Waste Life around the shops for a while, but didn't realise that it was Australian until I saw Anita Vandyke on SugarMamma.TV a few months ago.

Soon after watching I was requesting the book from my library- which seemed a more Zero Waste thing to do. And it saved me 20 bucks too. Which I transferred to my mortgage. Which would make Sugar Mamma proud. 

Anita Vandyke is an interesting woman. She initially trained in Aeronautical Engineering, and is now a medical student. Clearly no slouch in the brains department. In the Introduction Anita describes her "aha moment", an "Is this all there is?", "Is this who I will become?" existential crisis sitting in a meeting in her mid 20s. So she quit her high paying job, and her initial motivator for change was financial when she was no longer working, and then became broader to encompass the environment, and life more generally. Anita doesn't want us to waste our time, our money, or our future. 

Plastic is Mother Nature's non-renewable resource, and time is ours. 
Anita lays out a 30 day programme for change, with four key steps- think, do, reflect and review. Apparently we can aim to reduce our waste by 80% over 30 days. That's a big call.
Living a zero waste life is not only actually really easy, it is also completely necessary
It's always frightening to see statements like this one:
Every piece of plastic created since the 1950s still exists.  
Yes, all the little plastic toys I played with as a kid, the straws I used (well they were paper initially), every tub of yoghurt I have ever bought- it's all still out there somewhere. I just don't know where. In landfill? In the  Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

A lot of this stuff I knew already. I've had environmental leanings since I was a teenager. I have already made some changes over the past few years. I was a great fan of both series of The War on Waste over the past few years, and have taken up soft plastic recycling as a hobby. But I can do more. We all need to do more.

I was already most of the way to making a Zero Waste Kit to have in my handbag. I've been taking my own (reusable) cutlery to work for years. I've been refusing plastic bags for at least 5-10 years. I reuse drink bottles. I try really hard to remember to refuse straws. I'll formalise things though, and make an actual kit as Anita suggests. I did just buy myself a pretty pink, sparkly water bottle. It sparks joy every time I look at it... oh wait, that's another book altogether.

I took my kit to Thailand last week,
it was great, very handy
Early on (Day 5) Anita suggests that we put ourselves onto a buying ban for the rest of the month. But I'm not ready to commit to a buying ban just now. Not that it wouldn't help me, but I recently bought a new house. I'm buying huge, expensive things at the moment, like solar panels, and a fireplace. I am trying to cut down - it just doesn't look like it right now ...

A lot of the content overlaps with other reads I've done recently. Decluttering. Minimalism. Gratitude. Food waste. Environment. Politics. Philosophy. Mindful consumption. 

It was a Sunday afternoon, I had just come home with a bag full of clothes after spending a few hours at the local shopping centre. I was sipping my takeaway iced chocolate while checking my Instagram and Facebook feeds. After an hour of mindless scrolling, I sat down for an evening of TV, watching housewives yell at each other. This was a regular Sunday for me. Looking back now, all I can think about are the hours I lost in wasteful consumption- blindly shopping for more stuff, consuming empty calories and indulging in the vortex of social media and televised trash. 
Reading A Zero Waste Life has given me the impetus and the wherewithal to try some things I'd been meaning to do for ages. I'm now using a shampoo bar, and a conditioning bar on my hair- and I really like them. I'm going to buy a shampoo bar for the dog next time too.

I'm keen to try some of Anita's recipes for DIY products- both beauty products and cleaning products for the house. I'm not ready for baking soda toothpaste, but would happily try a Sugar Scrub or an All Purpose Cleaner. I'm impressed that Anita freely shares these recipes online- on her blog, or instagram. These really are changes we can all make. A Zero Waste Life is a great place to start.