I first attempted to read Beloved my sophomore year in high school. I say “attempted” because I never finished it. Before picking it up again recently, I remembered almost nothing about it, except that I found it slow and I couldn’t keep the characters straight, much less get to know them. So I put it down.
I read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Jazz in college and loved them both, so I knew that one day I would revisit Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved. But I wasn’t looking forward to it because of my experience with it when I was 15 or 16.
Predictably, 10 years makes all the difference in the world. Perhaps I’ve become the person my teenage self loathed, because this go-around, reading Beloved solidified my suspicion that my own teenage angst prevented me from accessing the empathy more experienced adults are capable of. Empathy is essential to understanding Beloved.
A major theme in Beloved included mother-daughter relationships, which I wasn’t able to understand from a mother’s point of view firsthand until recently. Morrison writes with such conviction and insight that I think the mother-daughter dynamics in the book are impossible to ignore whether you’re relating from a mother or a child’s point of view, but I will say that as a mother, this aspect of the novel just destroyed me. The book’s protagonist, Sethe, a mother, made every feeling I’ve ever had about my daughter bubble up in me. I read Part 3 (the conclusion) on Mother’s Day. I would not recommend that for my fellow mothers out there, probably.
The other major theme woven into this haunting story is identity, which Morrison skillfully points out can be lost, confused and tattered when one person is a slave to another. By the way, as you might guess if you’ve read other Morrison books, slavery is illustrated in both the historical American sense and non-traditional senses.
I went to Goodreads to remind myself exactly what Beloved was about before I started it again. In the simplest terms, Sethe is a freed slave who has lost all of her children except for one, her daughter, Denver. Toward the beginning of the book, a stranger named Beloved shows up at Sethe and Denver’s home. Beloved is a pretty ambiguous character, and most certainly not what she seems at first. There are flashbacks to Sethe’s time as a slave and her escape to freedom throughout the story, so there are essentially two plots happening at once.
As you might expect from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, most of the reviews on Goodreads were good, but I always like to see what people who rated books low have to say. Most people who didn’t like Beloved cite the (at times, VERY) disturbing descriptions of slavery, bestiality, infanticide and physical and sexual abuse. Yes, these things are all in this novel and they are horrifying. But I think that if you’re setting out to read Beloved, it would serve you well to remember that this novel deals primarily with slavery, and it’s important to keep in mind that this period in American history should horrify us. It’s easy to read hard facts about one group of people systematically treating another group of people as sub-human and move on, but it’s imperative to understand that we’re not realizing the weight of what happened if we just move on. I think it’s ill-informed at best to gloss over this part of history, and quite possibly dangerous. Don’t forget that slavery is not dead.
So, I would recommend Beloved to anyone interested. If you’ve never read Toni Morrison, you should know that her prose is absolutely masterful. She’s lyrical, emotional and at times dramatic, but restrained enough to never cross the line into melodrama. If you’re like me and have read Morrison before, but never Beloved, please run to your local library or bookstore immediately and pick it up. My opinion is that it’s an important work of fiction.
Readers, you know that A and I have been in the process of buying a house. You (may) know that moving to a larger, forever-home in a quieter, safer, more convenient neighborhood has been a goal for about three years.
It finally happened.
I’m not sure it has hit me yet. I’m sort of dancing on a cloud. But despite my high, this whole home buying experience had a lot of lows. We got an amazing deal on the place, but as they say, you don’t get anything for free. Our amazing deal doubled the time we thought it would take to close, and there was so much uncertainty. It was an ordeal.
But I promised a post outlining the nitty-gritty, so here it is. What we went through to get our new-to-us family home, broken down week-by-week (enjoy, you real estate nerds! Everyone else, you can stop reading now).
Week 1: Browsing real estate listings, I see our future home on the market, and it’s just been reduced by a LOT. Even though A and I aren’t 100% sure we’ll be buying soon, we decide to go look. It definitely needs work, but we like it, so we put an offer in right away, fearing competition. Offer is accepted the next day. So far, everything is moving quickly and smoothly.
Week 2: The big home inspection. We know if it shows major defects, we’ll have to back out, because with two mortgages, we won’t be able to afford major repairs. Hallelujah, the home is in even better condition than we thought it would be. We remove the inspection contingency in our purchase contract and decide to go forward with the purchase.
Week 3: Our loan is in underwriting with our lender, which means they’re going over our bank statements, taxes, paystubs and other info with a fine-tooth comb. We wait nervously (especially me), second-guessing our true ability to borrow a large sum of money. Also, our sanity.
Week 4: This week started on a high note, with a conditional approval from our lender. That means our finances, employment history, etc., have all been verified and the lender likes what they see. They commit to lend us the money, on the condition that the home appraises for at least as much money as we’re paying for it and that it’s in decent condition. That’s all standard. Cue dancing.
Three days later, our hangups begin. The lender decides they will only lend us the money if we repair loose tile in the bathroom, an electrical issue that’s not to code, and have roof, plumbing and electrical inspections on the house. This was a major problem, because we are getting a conventional loan, and lenders almost never ask for repairs on something that isn’t a safety hazard for a conventional loan. The electrical issue we could sort of see, but the tiles??? And all the extra inspections?? Luckily, our realtor went to bat for us and got the inspections waived, but we were still stuck with two repairs.
We really want to tackle the repairs ourselves, or at least be the ones to hire contractors, because we know a great electrician, and the tile work would be a breeze for the right person. But unfortunately, the matter is out of our hands. We have to wait for the seller (Fannie Mae) to get contractor bids on the project, then for the contractor they choose to do the work, and then for our lender’s appraiser to come out and tell the lender that the work has been done. And one more thing to complicate the matter: Fannie Mae has allotted $500 for repairs. If the repairs we need exceed the $500, we might have to pay out of pocket, or re-construct the contract to reflect a lower price to match the repair expenses. In short: one week before closing, we suddenly have a potentially messy situation on our hands.
Week 5: We wait for Fannie Mae to bid out the repairs. All. Week. Long.
Week 6: Still waiting, with no word. Our realtor informs us that Fannie Mae has just implemented a new online communication system, which has bugs. Our purchase contract expires, and we have to get Fannie Mae to sign an extension.
Week 7: Still waiting. Nothing. Our rate lock expires with our lender, but luckily, they extend it for us for three more weeks for free. We begin panicking. Our realtor finds out who his Fannie Mae contact’s boss is, and contacts him. We sign another purchase contract extension.
Week 8: Our realtor finally starts getting answers. We find out that Fannie Mae has bid the project, and it will be $1,000 total. We have to wait to see if they will pay the difference or if we will have to. We sign another extension.
Week 9: We learn that the contractor has bid re-doing the entire shower instead of just the loose tiles. The total for the projects is $2,000, but Fannie Mae has agreed to pay it all. Yes! The work is completed, and our lender signs off on it. We had a slim chance of closing this week, but Fannie needs three days to get it done. We sign our final extension.
Week 10: I had to be at work, but A got to do a final walk-through the day before closing to see the repairs. Turns out the contractors hadn’t redone the entire shower, but the work looked really good. But, (drumroll for you electrical nerds) they replaced our fuse box with breakers! A huge upgrade that we didn’t expect to get. The next day, we close smoothly. Finally. Whew!
My advice, for anyone out there thinking about purchasing a home, is (1) to get a buyer’s agent you know will work hard for you, and (2) only buy a Fannie Mae or similar foreclosure if you’re really, truly in love with the house. What should have been a pretty routine escrow process, even with the lender repair requirement hiccup, became a nightmare when we went three weeks without answers from an uncaring government agency.
In all, I’m so glad we stuck it out for this home. Lots of before/after photos to come!
Remember my last post where I dropped the news that we’re buying a house? Well, it seems like that’s still happening, but it definitely ranks as one of the most stressful situations I’ve ever been through. I knew it would be hard going into it, but I didn’t know it would be THIS hard (says everyone, right?).
Here we are, one day past our original closing date, and no end in sight. Everything that still needs to be done is completely out of our control. Which is pretty much the worst for me. I’m a complete control freak, so just having to sit on my hands and wait for a phone call is the highest form of torture.
A, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. I think the worst part of this whole process for him was at the very beginning when we worked out the monthly payments and how much we’d have to bring to closing. Once he had time to let that settle, he went into zen mode. His philosophy is if you can’t do anything about it, then there’s no sense worrying about it. And I know that is 100% correct, and I envy him for being able to just let it go like that.
Meanwhile, my anxiety rises by the minute. Each time we pack something, the pressure to close and move out ASAP rises. And the pressure is high, for all sorts of reasons. It’s an any-minute-now-but-maybe-weeks-away type situation. And it’s killing me!
Have any of you been in a similar situation? How did you deal?
Hi, readers (if there are any still out there). I didn’t quit my blog. I’ve just been on an extremely long, extended break. There are a few reasons why:
1. Working A Lot
I love, love, love my job! Writing for a living is the best. Ever. But…writing all day, and then coming home and writing? Yeah, that hasn’t been working out so well for me.
2. A One-Year-Old
Baby I is so much fun now that she can play and interact with us. She’s learning all sorts of new things, like flipping the pages in a book, hand gestures to nursery rhymes, a couple of new words, and WALKING! Unfortunately, she’s also cutting her molars. To the uninitiated, this means that she’s also cranky with an on-again, off-again fever and interrupted sleep. Which means my sleep is also interrupted. Oy vey.
3. Buying a House
A and I are buying a house, people!! I’ve been dreaming of this for years. Years! But now that it’s here, the reality that this is an extremely big, scary deal is setting in. Not only is a lot of money going to leave our bank accounts very, very soon, but the whole loan process is SUCH an ordeal. We’re about halfway through the process, with (hopefully) just two or three more weeks to go, and I’ve been on the phone almost every day with lenders, real estate agents, insurance agents, inspectors…you name it. Running to the bank at lunch to get another bank statement? Check. Dreams about uninsurable wiring? Check. It’s like adding another full time job to our schedules.
But I have to share: these inconveniences aren’t even the worst part. The worst part is that we’ve attached ourselves to this home (and why wouldn’t we? We’re about to drop most of our savings so that we can live in it for the foreseeable future. Baby I will grow up there. Our dogs are going to play in the yard! I digress). Being attached to the home you’re in the process of buying could be bad, because a deal is NEVER done until the keys are in your hands. There are so many things that could go wrong between now and our anticipated closing date. I’m sort of hyperventilating just thinking about it. Can we just skip forward in time to closing day please?
For those wondering, we’re moving right along in the process. We were conditionally approved for our loan, and we satisfied all the conditions that were in our control. We also had an inspection, which came back fine. Our lender even got the title work back for the home we’re buying…all fine. Now, we’re waiting for the appraisal report and to finalize a homeowner’s insurance policy. Because the home we’re buying is old, not updated, and needs some work, these things are a little bit up in the air. Stay tuned…
In conclusion: I’ve been busy, friends. But I promise I will continue to post musings, ramblings, and other odds and ends in between all the craziness in my life. Cheers!
I spent my day off today saying goodbye to the patriarch of A’s family, his grandfather. He passed away late last week and we have been dealing with the aftermath as bast we can since then, since most of his family lives in our city.
I knew him as a gruff but witty man who loved to joke but also was not well. Even his pastor described him as a “man’s man” at the service today. The photos cycling on the screen at the memorial reflected this; in his earlier days he sported dark, slicked-back hair; a motorcycle; his beautiful bride on his arm. Because I am a Christian and so was he, I feel much worse about the pain he felt in his last days than I feel about the fact that he’s gone now. The thing that is most painful for this family in the aftermath of his death, I think, is the fact that he left a wonderful woman behind, who hasn’t gone to bed alone in 66 years. What next for her?
Death is part of the Great Unknown, and I think that’s most of what makes it uncomfortable and hurtful for those of us left behind. I don’t have any answers for A’s grandma, or anyone who is hurting today.
Something I thought remarkable is that both A and his mother have commented to me that they don’t want people to be so sad at their funerals. Neither of them feel that death is such a sad thing, and neither of them feel that sadness is the best way to heal for those they will leave behind.
I think it’s an interesting concept. Something to think about today in particular. As the great Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.”
Here’s to hoping everyone reading this post will allow light into their lives, that it will drive out any darkness that might be hiding there.
Ok, so maybe a staycation isn’t all I’ve ever wanted, but it’s exactly what I needed last week. My last day at my old job was January 4th, and then I took the next blissful week to myself (with Baby I, of course), which culminated in a very special first birthday party! I’m mom to a one-year-old. Wow!
Here we are at the last day of 2012. I was thinking about what one word I would use to describe this year, and you know, I can’t pinpoint one. Contenders included joyous, exhausting, triumphant, devastating, difficult, life-changing and life-affirming. I think they could all apply equally, depending on which part of my life I’m looking at and/or the time frame.