The Handmaid’s Tale: Offred at the Wall

Oh, the things we take for granted when not living under a totalitarian regime: lipstick, Netflix, bubble wrap. Perhaps one of the most easily overlooked items is color. When oppression strips one of their freedom and dignity, color can become a luxury, but it can also become the oppressor.

In the novel, Atwood writes, “Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us.”  Blood’s connotation varies widely depending on the context.  It can be linked to life, the blood coursing through one’s veins, but also death or injury.  It can be seen as passionate and loving, but also as sinful.  In one short line, Atwood has embraced all such implications.  The sole duty of handmaids is to reproduce.  In that way, they can be considered walking wombs, the life-force of this dying society.  However, within that society the margin for error, for autonomy, is nonexistent, so there is also the ever-present threat of death that sits like a fog over the city—the red of the brick wall from which people are hanged. 

Here Offred stands at the wall, a place that is meant to inspire fear, but that Offred visits seeking relief, hoping not to recognize the salvaged.

“By telling you anything at all I’m at least believing in you, believe you’re there, I believe you into being. Because I’m telling you this story I will your existence. I tell, therefore you are. So I will go on. So I will myself to go on.”

IMG_5659No, I will not sell you the winged bonnet–I don’t care how sassy it would look with your fanny pack.

Advertisements

We interrupt this broadcast with a brief word from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

The “Setting Scene” post for A Handmaid’s Tale is in the works (winged bonnet construction delays, ya feel me?).  However, the next text on deck is even more chock-full of grim dystopian fun, this time post-apocalyptic (though it’s not technically on my MFA reading list—-a throwback, if you will).

While past texts lent themselves nicely to food inspiration, gourmet de Road would be limited to expired canned goods or baby-on-a-stick.  Mmmmm.  I went directly to plan B on this one.  Because the world is ending in this novel, and with it what’s left of humanity, I decided to focus on artwork. After all, what do we study of civilizations past? What better than the arts to depict humans as evolved—-different from beast?

Below I’ve paired famous paintings inspired by scenes or themes from the text.

“There was a lake a mile from his uncle’s farm where he and his uncle used to go in the fall for firewood.  He sat in the back of the rowboat trailing his hand in the cold wake while his uncle bent to the oars…This was the perfect day of his childhood.  This the day to shape the days upon.”

rowboat on the seine, monet

“Rowboat on the Seine,” by Monet

Image taken from here.

The next passage could possibly be interpreted as a tower/library of babel reference, hence the accompanying painting.

“Years later he’d stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He’d not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light.”

Brueghel-tower-of-babel

“Tower of Babel,” by Brueghel

Image taken from here.

The next piece is about as literal as a literal interpretation can get—-it says carrying fire, here is a painting of carrying fire.  But if the Promethean shoe fits…

“We wouldnt ever eat anybody, would we?
 No. Of course not.
 Even if we were starving?
We’re starving now.
You said we werent.
 I said we werent dying. I didnt say we werent starving.
But we wouldnt.

No. We wouldnt.
No matter what.
 No. No matter what.
 Because we’re the good guys.
 Yes.
 And we’re carrying the fire.
 And we’re carrying the fire. Yes.
Okay.”

prometheus “Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind,” by Füger

Image taken from here.

The final piece is not one of my favorites (I mean, that baby is ripped, the feet all look gnarly, and amidst all the nakedness there is a noticeable absence of a thing or two), but is an apt representation of the struggle to remain good, and the man’s vigilant efforts to keep his son from harm.  The white eyes of the evil angel are also reminiscent of the cave-beast in the text: on the hunt.

“He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.
Yes. We’re still the good guys.
And we always will be.
Yes. We always will be.”

The Good and Evil Angels 1795/?c.1805 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05057

“The Good and Evil Angels,” by William Blake

Image taken from here.

Now… aren’t you glad we didn’t barbecue babies?

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood: Hope and Lotion

photo

The above cover art is by Amelia Jude (though I messed with it a bit).  See more of her work here.

I have something to tell you, and you’re not going to like it. This is the first time I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale.  Go ahead and book-shame me if you must: I understand.  But it’s not like I’ve been cheating on you with 50 Shades of Twilight, or anything as barbaric–I mean, we’re good, right? Right?

Ahem. Right. Totally cool.

So. Now that I have read it, I can’t believe it’s been sitting oh-so-innocuously on my shelf for years.  A dystopia fueled by religious extremism and the misemployment of feminism? Yes, please.

The inspiration for this project was taken from the following passage:

“As long as we do this, butter our skin to keep it soft, we can believe that we will some day get out, that we will be touched again, in love or desire. We have ceremonies of our own, private ones.”

As Offred mentioned in the text, while butter can work as a moisturizer in a pinch, it does make one smell like rancid milk eventually, and I couldn’t subject you to my neuroses,reading list shortcomings, and rotten dairy all in one post.  Below you’ll find a recipe for homemade lotion that you’ll actually enjoy using.

IMG_5582

Homemade Lotion

The following recipe was taken from Wellness Mama.  Here’s the original link.

Here’s my version:

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup almond oil
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup beeswax (you’ll want the pastilles)
  • 1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 7 drops tangerine essential oil

*The last two ingredients are just for fragrance; feel free to experiment with your own essential oil combos.  I chose these particular scents  as they relate to the novel: vanilla for motherhood, evoking the heavenly smells of baking in the kitchen; and tangerine for the oranges that were considered such a luxury when they were available at Milk and Honey.

Directions

Combine ingredients in a pint sized or larger glass mason jar.

Fill a medium saucepan with 2-3 inches of water and place over medium heat.

Put a lid on the jar loosely and place in the pan with the water.

As the water heats, the ingredients in the jar will start to melt. Shake or stir occasionally to incorporate.

When all ingredients are completely melted, pour into whatever jar or tin you will use for storage. Let cool.

Use within 6 months.

Don’t take that silky, smooth skin for granted.

The Boys of My Youth: Jo Ann in “Cousins”

“We’re in the sticks.  Way out here things are measured in shitloads, and every third guy you meet is named Junior.  I’ve decided I don’t even like this bar we’re going to, that howling three-man band and the bathroom with no stalls, just stools.  Now I’m slumped and surly, an old pose for me.”


IMG_5522

Though no definite time period was given for this section of the essay, I’m dating it in the 70s due to the Fleetwood Mac and the hair straightened on an ironing board.  Sure, the star vehicle of the piece is a Firebird, and this is a 1965 Mercury Comet, but I’m on a limited (read:nonexistent) budget here on a lit.eral interpretation. Cut a girl some slack.  Many thanks to the owner who generously went off-road with his baby, but would not let me sit on the hood…

Rummy Roys: Drinking in The Boys of My Youth, by Jo Ann Beard

IMG_5472

The Boys of My Youth is a collection of autobiographical essays in the bildungsroman tradition; I’d say it’s in the top three reads of my MFA adventure thus far.  In other words, I read it it in 1.5 days while mainlining coffee and holed up in my PJs.  Classy, no?

There are men, dogs, and a variety of vehicles that pass through the essays, but the most steadfast of relationships are the female friendships that endure over time—one of which begins in utero.

The essay “Cousins,” shows a friendship that begins with the pregnant mothers, then spans the life of their baby girls as they grow older and closer together.  Eventually, they start getting into trouble, as in any coming-of-age tale worth its weight.

The following recipe combines a Roy Rogers—the classic cherry coke treat—and a rum and coke.  I felt it was the perfect middle point of innocence and sin, inspired by the scene when they tear down the dirt road in Wendell’s Firebird to go drink-and-dancing at a cowboy bar in the boondocks.

Rummy Roy

1 shot grenadine

1 shot rum (I used Sailor Jerry’s–you can go unspiced if you rather)

1 Mexican Coca Cola (If you haven’t found cola enlightenment, start here.)

Maraschino cherry for garnish

ice

Pour both shots in a highball glass over ice.  Fill the rest with cola and stir.  Garnish with cherry.

“The rum is a warm, dark curtain in my chest.”

IMG_5490

Please read responsibly.

Olive Kitteridge–Let’s have donuts.

Donuts got some serious page-time throughout the collection–they were even the subject of several questions in the mock-interview with Olive at the end of the book.  Rather than overanalyze their presence (a buoy, feeding appetites that aren’t otherwise met, etc., etc.), I’m going to let them speak for themselves.  Donuts.  Word.

The following recipe is for baked donuts, as I don’t have the proper equipment or kitchen elves to make the “real deal.”  That said, these babies are still delectable morsels of cinnamon-sugar deliciousness.  Like little intertube churros.  See the instructions below:

IMG_1077

Baked Donuts (this recipe is one of Ina Garten’s, though I lowered the bake time a bit for Colorado altitude–here’s the link:original recipe)

*You will need a donut baking pan if you want the OG donut shape.

Ingredients
Baking spray with flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 doughnut pans well.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the baking pans, filling each one a little more than three-quarters full. Bake for 16 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then tap the doughnuts out onto a sheet pan.

For the topping, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter in an 8-inch saute pan. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Dip each doughnut first in the butter and then in the cinnamon sugar, either on one side or both sides.

More thoughts on donuts (and doughnuts)…

If you want to branch out from the cinnamon-sugar topping, this is a great base for other donut flavors as well.  I came up with my own chai topping, shown below, but you could also use powdered sugar, citrus sugar, lavender sugar–I foresee someone doing something awesome with matcha or maple and bacon (we don’t judge here).  Tell me about your successes!

Chai sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ginger

1/8 tsp cloves or allspice

1/8-1/4 tsp cardamom, depending on your spice preference

Blend all together and use after the butter, as you did with the cinnamon topping above.

Here’s to you, Olive.  Happy baking!

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout: Angela in “The Piano Player”

IMG_0902

Olive Kitteridege is a collection of short stories that acts as the connective tissue among the inhabitants of a small-town community in Maine.  It’s an amazing read, but don’t take my word for it: ask Pulitzer!

One of the most poignant aspects of this collection is Strout’s ability to portray adult isolation–that stigmatized loneliness that occurs, sometimes even when surrounded by loved ones.  The rumination on that aspect of the human condition lends a subtle “otherness” to many of the characters that would not traditionally be labeled as such.

A character whose loneliness is tangible–a biting acid she holds back–is Angela, the cocktail bar pianist with stage fright.  Her angelic face, the fake fur and high-heeled boots–they are her armor.  But not all can be covered with polymers and lipstick.

“A face like an angel.  A drunk.  Her mother sold herself to men.  Never married, Angela?”

 IMG_0990

I’d shake hands, but I’ve got this fork…

blog bio pic

Just a hungry bookhound, looking to slip between the pages and marinate awhile.  I’m currently pursuing an MFA at a college that prescribes some seriously heavy reading–I know, I am nerding out about it too!

Here’s where the blog comes in.

While I’ll be typing my fingers raw for the program– writing new creative morsels and pulling academic tidbits of insight seemingly from thin air–I also want to pitch a spade between the lines and roll around a bit. Get Times New Roman stuck in my hair. I’m going to base some creative endeavors on the texts I’m reading (and maybe some nostalgic friends from the past) and share them.  Right here. With you.

Wannna get elbows-deep in some literary goodness? Stick around.