‘I would rather be ashes than dust’

Zen Pencils: Cartoon Quotes from Inspirational FolksZen Pencils: Cartoon Quotes from Inspirational Folks by Gavin Aung Than

Delightful graphic novel with the artist illustrating inspirational quotes. Some quotes you’ll recognize right away (Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it will elude you.). Many are more obscure, but all are enhanced by imaginative, well-crafted illustrations, and if you don’t puddle up a time or two, I wash my hands of you. Neil Gaiman and Phil Plait and The Two Wolves are marvelously here, as is Confucius, Vincent Van Gogh, and a Jack London quote which is one of my favorite quotes of all time. ‘I would rather be ashes than dust.’ Me, too, and Aung Than has created an unusual and imaginative graphic tale to accompany it.

I hate to jerk this knee here, but it has to be said: I wish there were more and better quotations from women. Just off the top of my head, where is Abigail Adams? Aung Than could have made one hell of a set of panels out of “Remember the ladies.” I’d love to have seen what he could have done with John’s expression when he was reading Abigail’s letter.

Aung Than makes up for this somewhat by featuring many women characters in his illustrations, some of whom make repeat appearances from quotation to quotation. On the whole, a good gift, and a sneaky one for kids or friends who aren’t necessarily into reading text only.

And you should definitely visit Zen Pencil’s website.

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“Ree nearly fell but would not let it happen in front of the law.”

[from the stabenow.com vaults, February 28, 2011]

I’m sorry Winter’s Bone didn’t take home any Oscars last night. It is a wonderful film.

The book the film was adapted from, Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell, is equally wonderful.

Ree Dolly’s father is due for a court hearing and he has signed over the family home as bond. Now he’s missing, and the cops tell his sixteen-year old daughter that their home is forfeit if he doesn’t show. Ree, sole support and care-giver of a mother who has slipped her leash on sanity and her two young brothers, sets out to find him among the meth dealers of the backwoods Ozarks. Every man and woman’s – and even the weather’s – hand is against her.

The characters live and breathe, as does the landscape, and the plot is only a cliche because it has worked every single time since Snidely Whiplash evicted Pauline. What moves me most is the language. Here are some samples.

When Ree first hears that Jessup has signed over her home against his court appearance:

Ree nearly fell but would not let it happen in front of the law. She heard thunder clapping between her ears and Beelzebub scratchin’ a fiddle. The boys and her and Mom would be dogs in the fields without this house. They would be dogs in the fields with Beelzebub scratchin’ out tunes and the boys’d have a hard hard shove toward unrelenting meanness and the roasting shed and she’d be stuck alongside them ’til steel door clanged shut and the flames rose. She’d never get away from her family as planned, off to the U.S. Army, where you got to travel with a gun and they made everybody help keep things clean. She’d never have only her own concerns to tote. She’d never have her own concerns.

There’s the stakes, in virtually biblical language, right there on page 15. Later, when we find out more about Ree’s mom, Woodrell writes of a woman we can only pity, never condemn:

Love and hate hold hands always so it made natural sense that they’d get confused by upset married folk in the wee hours once in a while and a nosebleed or a bruised breast might result. But it just seemed proof that a great foulness was afoot in the world when a no-strings roll in the hay with a stranger led to chipped teeth or cigarette burns on the wrist.

When Ree tells how Dollys are named, it sounds right out of Native culture in western Alaska, only a lot less hopeful and a lot more ominous:

…the great name of the Dollys was Milton, and at least two dozen Miltons moved about in Ree’s world. If you named a son Milton it was a decision that attempted to chart the life he’d live before he even stepped into it, for among Dollys the name carried expectations and history. Some names could rise to walk many paths in many directions, but Jessups, Arthurs, Haslams and Miltons were born to walk only the beaten Dolly path to the shadowed place, live and die in keeping with those bloodline customs fiercest held.

There is prose of that quality on every page of this lyrical little gem of a novel, and sixteen-year old Ree is one of the strongest and most admirable heroines I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. You should meet her, too.

Women Rejecting Marriage Proposals In Western Art History

From The Toast. Below are a few samples but you should definitely follow the link back to their original post for a belly laugh or two. Especially for the red tights guy.




Your quick-and-dirty Alaska itinerary.


[from Alaska magazine February 2003 issue]

I keep getting email from the people who read this column telling me you’re coming to Alaska and asking me where to go. Well…but no, what am I saying to all you fine, wonderful readers who keep me gainfully employed?

I’ll tell you what. How about I dream up The Perfect Alaskan Itinerary, you clip it out and verathane it to your refrigerator? Good, works for me.

To begin with, plan on a minimum of two weeks. Here’s an exercise in geographical perspective for you: Lay a transparent map of Alaska over a map of the South 48 to the same scale. See, the map of Alaska overlays both borders and both coasts of the South 48. You wouldn’t plan on touring the continental United States in two weeks, now, would you?

So here is one possible, admittedly quick-and-dirty, summer and Southcentral specific itinerary just for you. I’ve personally experienced most of the recommendations I make, and the books came right off my shelves.

Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage. Alaska Airlines can’t be beat for frequency of Alaska-West Coast flights, and nowadays they’re flying in from Boston, Newark, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Minneapolis and Denver, too. As for where to stay, if you like B&Bs, here’s a link to Anchorage Bed and Breakfast. If you’d rather have your own bathroom, we have everything from Day’s Inn to the four-star Hotel Captain Cook.

Day 2: Visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Shop for Native arts and crafts at the gift shop at the Alaska Native Medical Center on Tudor. Rent a bike and ride the Coastal Trail to Kincaid Park. Watch out for moose and the occasional bear.

Day 3: Drive to Seward for a trip with Kenai Fjords Cruises. I have never been skunked on this cruise, I’ve seen killer whales and humpbacks and Steller sea lions and finback whales and puffins and porpoises and otters and seals and pretty much any maritime wildlife you can name at this latitude. And I haven’t even mentioned the glacier.

Stay the night. Dine at Ray’s in the boat harbor and then walk it off looking at Seward’s collection of murals, featuring the famous Fourth of July Mt. Marathon footrace, the Iditarod Trail, Rockwell Kent, and Alaskan wildflowers. You could hike Mt. Marathon, or take the Godwin Glacier helicopter/dog sled tour, too.

Day 4: Visit the Sealife Center, and stop at Exit Glacier on the way out of town for an easy hike up to the glacier’s face. Drive to Homer. Stay at the Driftwood Inn on Bishop’s Beach, or any one of about a thousand B&B’s. Shop at the Bunnell Street Gallery, Ptarmigan Arts, and the Fireweed Gallery. Walk the Facing the Elements trail in back of the Pratt Museum and do not miss the sperm whale exhibit at the high school. Take Mako’s Water Taxi on a tour of Kachemak Bay with a visit to Seldovia. Dine on deep-fried halibut at Captain Patti’s Fish House, but get there early because I’ll be in line in front of you. End the day with a walk and a driftwood fire on Bishop’s Beach. Don’t worry, in summertime we have nineteen-plus hours of daylight, you’ll fit it all in.

Day 5: Pick up lunch at the Sourdough Express, which you remembered to order the night before. Take Bald Mountain Air’s bear flightseeing trip to Katmai. Dine at the fabulous Homestead Restaurant out East End Road and pour a libation in honor of the wonderful tour guide who recommended it to you.

Day 6: Get your morning coffee and breakfast pastry at Two Sisters Bakery across the street. Drive to Anchorage. Stop at Summit Lake Lodge for ice cream, and in Girdwood to pan for gold at the Crow Creek Mine and eat the best pepper steak of your life at the Double Muskie. After that you better walk the ridge to the Seven Glaciers, but you can take the aerial tram if you want to.

Day 7: Another day in Anchorage (You can drive straight to Talkeetna if you like but it will be a long day). Visit the Anchorage Museum, especially the Alaska history exhibit. Shop at Cabin Fever at 4th and G. Go to the Whale Fat Follies. Visitors tell me that it is best not to go to the Follies until you’ve been here at least a week, otherwise you don’t get the jokes.

Day 8: Drive to Talkeetna. Stay at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. If you can tear yourself away from the view, take the Hurricane Turn, Alaska Railroad’s six-hour flagstop service to Hurricane, which has great characters and great scenery in equal proportion.

Day 9: Take a flightseeing trip to Denali out of Talkeetna with K2 Aviation, or go rafting with Mahay’s. Or both.

Day 10: Drive to Denali and take the bus into the park. Your butt will hurt, you’ll choke on the dust and the mosquitoes will eat you alive, but you’ll see grizzlies, caribou, moose, marmots, eagles, and maybe even wolves. Oh, and then there is The Mountain.

Day 11: Drive to Fairbanks. Go see the woolly mammoth at UAF.

Day 12: Take the paddlewheeler downriver. Or a day trip to visit the Alyeska Pipeline Visitors Center.

Day 13: Go for a hike and a dip in Chena Hot Springs. For sure you’ll want to spend some time with Lance Mackey, Iditarod champion and all-around great guy.

Day 14: Fly home and get some sleep.

Mind you, this is the easy way to see Alaska, from road and rail and river. If you want to visit the carving shed in Ketchikan, you’ll want to take one of the many cruise ships plying the Inside Passage. If you want to fly into some of the remoter locations like Nome or Barrow, get out your wallet as the farther away you get from the road system the more expensive everything is. Why do you think so many of us practice a subsistence lifestyle?

You could also backpack into the Gates of the Arctic National Park, kayak Prince William Sound, or take deck passage on the Alaska state ferry Tustamena to Dutch Harbor, always supposing the Alaska legislature gets its ass in gear and funds it.

Some suggested reading before, during and after your trip:
Always and ever THE MILEPOST, which has maps, routes, places to eat, stay, sightsee, and opening hours and seasons. We buy it, too. If you’re interested in flowers, it has to be Verna Pratt’s FIELD GUIDE TO ALASKAN WILDFLOWERS. If you’re interested in birds and you should be because Alaska is where it seems like some of every species spend their summers, invest now in Robert H. Armstrong’s GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ALASKA. I have one in my house and one in the back of my car, and binoculars both places, too.

If you’re interested in readable Alaskan history, try CONFEDERATE RAIDER by Murray Morgan, THE KLONDIKE FEVER by Pierre Berton, GOOD-TIME GIRLS by Lael Morgan, and THE THOUSAND-MILE WAR by Brian Garfield. Try the ALASKA ALMANAC for historical and geographical facts and wisecracks by Mr. Whitekeys. Try HOW TO SPEAK ALASKAN by Mike Doogan if you want to come in disguise. If you’re interested in Alaska Native culture, try ALASKA NATIVE WRITERS, STORYTELLERS & ORATORS, a publication of the Alaska Quarterly Review. If you’d like a comprehensive survey of Alaskan poetry and literature, try THE LAST NEW LAND, edited by Wayne Mergler.

What else? My friend Rhonda says you should come for the Iditarod, beginning in Anchorage for the ceremonial start on the first Saturday in March and flying to Nome for the grand finale beneath the burlwood arch. My friend Pati says you haven’t really been here if you haven’t been kayaking, salt water or fresh. My friend Sharyn says no trip to Alaska is complete without driving the Denali Highway from Cantwell to Paxon, and then driving Paxon to McCarthy to tour the Kennecott Mine.

Me, I think if you go home without going to Seldovia, why did you bother coming at all?


So, you’re a Chicago hit man…

GangsterlandGangsterland by Tod Goldberg

So, you’re a Chicago hit man and you have to shoot your way out of a situation that leaves multiple government employees dead. You think you’re going to be taken out by your boss because of this mess you made, and instead, he ships you to Las Vegas and a change of profession. As in…a rabbi.

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Star Wars vs. Avatar

[from the stabenow.com vaults, July 10, 2011]

Big conversation yesterday at knitting about Star Wars vs. Avatar. (Talking about the first Star Wars film, here.)

My main objection to Avatar is that there isn’t one quotable line in the whole shebang.

In a film speculated to have cost anywhere from $230 million (The New Yorker) to nearly $500 million (The New York Times), it seems like spending a couple of million on a decent writer wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Avatar is beautiful to look at, the new film tech is spectacular, it is unquestionably a game changer, definitely a, um, Star Wars moment in film history, but there is isn’t a single line in it to compare with

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.


Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?

or, hell, even

May the Force be with you.

Don’t get me wrong, I will forever revere James Cameron for Aliens

and Terminator 2

the sources of many great lines, like

They can bill me.


Anybody not wearing 2 million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day.

but there is nothing remotely approaching this caliber of dialogue in Avatar. Although at knitting yesterday Marian did remind me there was one memorable word.


Obvious, much?