Search Me

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Catching Fire - book review

I received the copy of Suzanne Collins' second book in the Hunger Games trilogy from Amazon on a Friday, but had a busy weekend planned, so restrained myself from devouring it right away.

It was a good thing, too, because once I finally picked it up, I couldn't put it down again until the last page was turned and the last word had been read. Catching Fire is just as absorbing and addicting as the first book in the trilogy.

The plot begins where The Hunger Games left off. Though she survived the Games, Katniss is still uncertain of her future, as she now has the unwanted attention of those in power. She is back at home, but things are not the same at all. Even setting aside the emotional trauma of the violence she has both witnessed and committed herself, enforcement of the laws in District 12 has suddenly become much stricter, and everyone's way of life is being threatened underneath the now-scrutinizing eyes of the Capitol. Katniss is discovering that she has unintentionally become the figurehead of the rebellion against the Capitol. While she certainly has other, personal things to worry about - like the fact that she loves two different boys who also love her - her primary concern is still survival. Food is plentiful now, but there is always the threat of the Capitol, and she fears for the lives of her family and all those who live in District 12.

Then the Hunger Games come again, and this time, the rules have changed.

There are certain rules that the second installment of a trilogy generally follow, and Catching Fire is no exception. Confusion seems to be the primary theme in Katniss' life right now - confusion over what she feels for Peeta and what she feels for Gale, confusion over what the Capitol is going to do next, confusion over the mysterious District 13 and what actually is going on. She was the spark that started the rebellion in earnest, but that wasn't her intention, and certainly no one consulted her first. Most of the time, no one will even tell her exactly what is even going on.

The ending is less than satisfying for a stand-alone story, but as the second book of the trilogy, it does its job of whetting the appetite for the next book. Collins does an excellent job of making you care about her characters and what happens to them, and we feel Katniss' pain as she tries to decide what to do and worries about the lives of those she cares about under the looming threat of the Capitol. We share some of her confusion as she tries to figure out what is going on when most of the other players won't give her the information she needs to put the pieces together. I had it figured out a bit before she did, but a lot of that is due to the fact that she still doesn't understand why people would want to help her, or why they would love her and trust her when she still has a hard time trusting anyone else.

I've already pre-ordered my copy of Mockingjay. August can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Touch and American Culture

As a student of massage therapy, I find I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about touch. Touch is a very important sense, though often overlooked when considering the senses. The skin truly is the largest sense organ we have. It establishes the physical boundary of our being and gives us information about our environment and the world around us, but it is truly even more significant than that.

There have been many studies done about the importance of touch. In marketing, a person is significantly more likely to buy an object they have actually touched it, and there is now more research being done on "sensory marketing," which is marketing directed towards developing products that have more tactile appeal. A waiter or waitress who lightly touches a patron is more likely to get a higher tip. A person is also more likely to purchase something or agree to a request if they were touched while the request was made.

It's not just a coercion technique. Babies who are not touched or held often do not grow as quickly and often have weakened immune systems, thus making them more subject to illness. Babies and children who do not experience healthy touch as a regular part of their development are much more likely to have emotional issues and exhibit violent behavior. An amazing study completed in the 20th century by touch researcher Ashley Montagu found that children deprived of loving touch suffer the consequences in their bones – small lines of retarded growth, known as Harris lines, appear at the ends of the tibia and the radius.

The importance of touch is even reflected in our language. When something moves us emotionally, we say we are "touched." The words "feel" and "feeling" are used interchangeably to mean either a physical touch or an emotion.

Our bodies and tissues also hold memories and emotions. Muscle memory isn't just something that makes it easier to complete complex tasks we have done before. Our memories are held, not just in our heads, but in our bodies. There is often anger stored in the muscles that were clenched when a triggering event occurred, grief still remaining in the tissues long after the tears have been dried. There is a deep connection between touch and our emotional states, and our emotional well being. Touch reduces stress, releases serotonins and oxytocins, and reduces cortisone levels in the body. Touch also communicates, producing a series of neural, glandular, muscular and mental changes that we interpret as emotion. Research has also linked the quality of touch experiences to competence in interpersonal relationships. The ability to trust others, and empathize with others, is directly related to touching.

As important as it is, how many of us have enough touch in our lives? It seems to be something sorely lacking in our culture, and much of it is wrapped up in our hangups about sex. We dare not touch each other because touch is so often sexualized, and sex has been demonized. But there is certainly such a thing as therapeutic touch, and compassionate touch, and healthy touch.

It's easy to see what kind of ramifications this view on touch can have. If we hold a belief that all touch is sexual in nature, and touch is a basic physiologic need, then is it any wonder we have issues with teenage pregnancy and promiscuity? If sex is seen as the only way to get that particular need met, of course we are going to see more of it, and sometimes - maybe often - in inappropriate ways.

Many of us are probably touch deficient. There is a lot of emphasis on boundaries, particularly in institutions such as corrections and psychiatric facilities. The populations that would likely benefit the most from therapeutic touch are the ones least likely to recieve it, due to their history and also due to the potential abuses that can occur. So often, it is easier to just outlaw something completely than it is to teach the correct way in which it can and should happen. Our society has a similar view of alcohol and drinking - but that's a topic for another post.

Touch is a basic physiologic need, and one that most people don't have enough of. So hug your kids. Hold your sweetie. Treat yourself to a massage, or give one to someone else you're close to. It's worth thinking about what touch means to you, and how you perceive it. After all, it is important.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Hunger Games - book review

While getting together with family over the holidays, my cousin was talking about this book that she had really enjoyed. Actually, she called it "crack," which I guess is a couple steps beyond a good book. She lent the book to my stepsister, who lent it to her mother, who then lent it to me. It's been awhile since I read a good book, so I thought why not? I started reading it that evening.

I didn't get to bed until about two in the morning, when I finished the last page and was disappointed that the book was over.

Suzanne Collins has created a world and a character that completely sucks you in, and it's almost impossible to resist turning the page to find out what happens next, until there are no more pages to turn. The story is told from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl who had to grow up many years ago, when her father died and her mother became too depressed to take care of Katniss and her younger sister. Each year in Panem, a post-apocalyptic US, names of children from each district are drawn to compete in the Hunger Games, which is actually a fight to the death, and only one child can be the winner. When the name of Katniss' sister is drawn, Katniss feels she has no choice other than to volunteer to take her place, and so the story begins.

Like so many good heroes, Katniss honestly has no idea what about her is so special, or what it is that draws people to her. For her, the primary concern is survival, but she is also fully aware of the political agenda behind the games, and she has no wish to kill if she doesn't have to. Survival is a game she is used to playing, back home on the streets of her very poor district. More foreign to her is the adoration and attention of others, and the love and affection of the boy she knows she is ultimately going to have to kill.

On the surface, The Hunger Games is an action-filled adventure story that keeps you turning the pages, but that is certainly not all there is to it. There is plenty here also to contemplate about what we take for granted, about the importance of compassion and humanity, about what it is that makes a hero, and what things may be more important even than survival.

I've ordered the second book, Catching Fire, and eagerly await both its arrival and that of the final book, Mockingjay, which will be coming out in August.

Crack, indeed. My cousin was right. The book is definitely addictive. Side effects may include hours of lost sleep while staying up re-reading it for the fourth time, thinking in depth about the things in life you value and/or take for granted, expanded imagination, greater appreciation of food and of life in general.

I guess there are worse addictions.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day

So, today is Valentine's Day. Quite possibly the most dreaded holiday of the year for a single person - or even for a person who is part of a couple, if they don't know what to get their other. My sister calls it "Single Awareness Day," which made me giggle when she first said it. It is true, though. If you are single, truly, what other day of the year makes you so keenly aware of it? Many might argue (not without cause) that it's a holiday made up by greeting card companies and chocolate manufacturers. While the roots of it go back a little further than Hallmark, it does seem that they profit from the day more than anyone else.

Most of that, I think, is due to how commercialized most of our holidays have become. The underlying spirit and meaning has been eradicated by the blitz of marketing by companies hoping to make a profit on people's good intentions. On the surface, Valentine's Day is that day you buy chocolates, cards and jewelry, just like on Thanksgiving you get together to eat ungodly amounts of food and on Christmas you hang sparkly things on a tree and put expensive gifts in boxes wrapped in expensive paper to everyone you know. These are the gestures and the ritual, but they are not the holiday. That is not the spirit in which these things began. Valentine's Day is about love, and there are many more kinds of love than just the romantic kind. I think today should be a day to show those you love that you appreciate them. Not just your boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife, but also that friend who has always been there for you, or the family member that you can always count on. We could stop for a moment and think about those we have given love to in the past, even if it didn't work out. They are a part of our journey, too, after all, and it is the journey that has made us who we are.

Above all, remember to love and appreciate yourself today. You're far more amazing, wonderful and beautiful than you give yourself credit for. If you do happen to be single at the moment and are stressing about it, don't. As amazing as you are, there is undoubtedly someone amazing in your future. Your future is just the now that you haven't seen yet. Sometimes it's just fun to think about the possibilities.

An Introduction

The Universe has been sending me hints that I should begin a blog, and so here I am. I do love the internet, and am thrilled at how this web of connections crosses time and space to bring us all that much closer. It's no replacement for human contact, of course, but it's a great deal better than writing letters or sending telegrams, and in this age of vlogs and video it's better than a telephone in many cases as well. I especially love that it no longer takes a corporation and clever marketing to make someone famous. Our destinies are squarely back in our own hands... not that anyone else ever took them away in the first place, but it was easy to believe so.

For the most part, I am an internet observer. I read some blogs, I watch videos on YouTube, and I soak it all in, but rarely do I put any part of myself *out there.* I guess this blog is my way of participating in the global community that is growing more each day.

Now that I've got a blog, the next question is, what shall I write about? I've got quite a few options. I'm an aspiring writer with at least one finished novel and many more stories in the works. I could use this as my networking vehicle as I try to get my stories published, and discuss the journey to one day becoming (hopefully) a published author. I am also in school for shiatsu and massage therapy, so I could talk about the benefits of that and the insights of being a bodyworker. I could discuss Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is what shiatsu is based on. I also am a Registered Nurse who works with a mentally ill population, and so I have that perspective. Too, I am a very philosophical person with a tendency to think too much, and I am sure I could come up with many thinky thoughts to blog about. I also consider myself a very spiritual person, with a lot of ideas about how life and the universe works. I don't ascribe to any particular religion, but that does not make me any less enthusiastic about what I believe. And I am a fangirl.... I have my favorite bands, favorite TV shows, favorite movies, etc. that I could probably spend many entries singing the praises of.

So how do I narrow that down into a specific theme for a blog? The solution I've come up with is, I won't. All of these things are part of who I am, and I'm not going to put on a specific mask for this blog. What you will get, in snippets and paragraphs, is me, and I refuse to narrow myself to a simple definition. I hope you'll stick around, though. I think it'll be fun.