15 Things I Will Never Do Again by Christina Knowles

Earlier today I was reflecting on some things that I wish I would not keep doing, so I thought I would make a list of things that I will never do again. But then, while I was making a serious list, I realized that it is almost a certainty that I would, in fact, fall victim to these behaviors again at some point in my life. So instead, I came up with a list that I think I can actually stick to.

I will never again:

  1.  Go on an amusement park ride that I don’t like. Why do people feel they have to persuade, plead, and demean others into going on rides they do not like? I don’t like rides that spin or go backwards, and I’m done being talked into them. If I go to an amusement park, I want to be amused. It is not amusing leaning over trash cans the rest of the day. Never again. I do want I want.
  2. Get a puppy. Only adult dogs for me from now on. I am done training puppies. It is too stressful, and I care too much about my house to do that ever again. I’ve found that one can train an adult dog in about a week to follow the rules in one’s home. That works for me.
  3. Buy an unflippable mattress. Don’t believe the lie. You need to be able to flip your mattress. Also, do not believe the warranty has any validity whatsoever. I’ve found that jumping off the roof onto a mattress does not cause sufficient damage for the manufacturer to consider the springs sagging. If you don’t completely disappear into the depression in the mattress, don’t bother filing a warranty claim.
  4. Stay in friendships with people who don’t respect me, my time, my feelings, or just want to use me when they need help. I don’t have enough hours in the day to waste on these friendships. I prefer to spend my time with people who care about me as much as I care about them.
  5. Plant a giant garden that needs tending when I plan to write a book. Or start any other major project when I need to be writing a book. Just write the damn book!
  6. Engage in meaningless small talk. Instead of answering “Fine,” to questions about how things are going to people who don’t really want to know how things are going, I will give them personal and exhaustive details to ensure that they never attempt to force me into small talk again. If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.
  7. Buy clothes that are too small, hoping to fit in to them in the future. It’s better to have cute clothes that fit than to have cute clothes going out of style with the tags still on, taunting me for years every time I open the closet.
  8. Lend a valued possession to anyone without writing down who I lent it to.
  9. Lend a valued possession at all. If I do lend it, I will just consider it gone forever.
  10. Tell something I don’t want a lot of people to know to someone I know cannot be trusted. I will learn this lesson. I will learn this lesson. I will.
  11. Stay up all night engaged in an argument. Maybe one should never go to bed mad, but one should never stay up all night mad either. Better to be mad and well-rested than to be mad and exhausted. Also, after a certain hour, one begins to lose the ability to recall injuries from the past to throw in the face of the person to whom one is arguing.
  12. Get dressed for hosting a dinner party before cooking dinner. I always have to change after cooking. Maybe I should invest in an apron.
  13. Stand on something that was not meant to be stood upon. I always forget that I don’t weigh 97 pounds anymore.
  14. Fill my plate at a party without sampling the food first. I have yet to master the subtle plate dump in the midst of a group of friends and family.
  15. Trust a hairdresser to understand what I want in one explanation. The older one gets, the longer it takes to grow one’s hair back. Pictures don’t work either. I find forcing them to look into my eyes for at least ten seconds before threatening their first born children the most helpful.

I think that is just about all I can commit to at the moment. Until next time–Christina Knowles

Wait, Wha? Did I Miss Something? A Review of Divergent by Veronica Roth (Caution: Spoilers!)

13335037I will undoubtedly anger some folks out there with this less than positive review, although I am wary of criticizing harshly the work of other authors, one, out of fear that I will rightly be called a hypocrite for judging others while making plenty of my own mistakes, and two, out of compassion because I know how difficult it is to write a logically consistent book. Nevertheless, I cannot keep silent when such a clearly bad book continues to get such applause among those who should know better, namely, the Children’s Choice Book Award Nominee for Teen Choice Book of the Year (2012), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2014), and the DABWAHA Romance Tournament for Best Young Adult Romance (2012).

Let’s start with the positive. This was an easy, fast-paced read. I found it exciting and attention-grabbing, and I kind of liked Tris and Four. It was action-packed and suspenseful enough that I wanted to keep reading it. I think I actually enjoyed it; however, this fact is still inexplicable to me.

Now to the problems in this novel. Honestly, everything about this book was pretty unbelievable, beginning with the whole premise of being Divergent. The book takes place in post-apocalyptic Chicago of the future, where to achieve order and peace, it is thought best to segregate everyone according to five personality types: Candor (the obnoxiously honest), Amity (the friendly), Erudite (the intelligent), Dauntless (the brave), and Abnegation (the self-sacrificing). Each faction has certain jobs in society for which they are responsible. More about that later. Anyone who does not pass the initiation into one of these factions becomes factionless, which basically means homeless and on the street. If someone falls into more than one personality type, they are labeled “Divergent” and targeted for assassination. Roth writes:

“Decades ago our ancestors realized that it is not political ideology, religious belief, race, or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determined that it was the fault of human personality – of humankind’s inclination toward evil, in whatever form that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world’s disarray.”

 Although the idea that some future generation of people would actually think this given our history is, well, okay, I can believe that. I don’t want to, but I can. We seem to repeat history. However, where the suspension of disbelief breaks down is the “Choosing Ceremony” and the testing that precedes it. Roth asks us to believe that a society that requires strict adherence to membership in a faction with the only alternative being death or homelessness actually lets their citizens choose a faction other than the one for which they tested compatible. This makes no sense. Really. Think about it. A person takes a test, which consists, by the way, of entering a simulation wherein the tester can see what you are experiencing and the results are recorded, they give you the result, say it’s Abnegation, but the person says, I really feel like a Dauntless. We are expected to believe that they are freely allowed to violate the whole purpose of the factions, thus proving themselves Divergent, and upsetting the whole peace-keeping plan? Another thing Roth asks us to fathom is that Tris and Four are the minority, that almost everybody else just has one personality trait. Seriously? Maybe I could buy this if she bothered to explain how we’d evolutionarily changed since the present time, or if she put forth some explanation of being genetically altered, drugged, brain-washed, or any explanation at all.

Okay, the next problem is that the Divergent can’t be controlled like everyone else. The Erudite want to take over leadership from the Abnegation, so they come up with a mind-controlling chip of some kind that is injected into the Dauntless to make them a zombie army, but Divergent people are completely unaffected. This is not explained either. Somehow having more than one personality trait makes them immune. The others are weak-minded for being good at one thing? I need explanation. I mean, isn’t their biology the same?

While I’m on the subject of the robotic army of the Dauntless, let’s talk about one of the biggest logic problems in the book. Tris finds out that the Erudite are creating a new simulation, the purpose of which is to trick the Dauntless into thinking they are doing the right thing by attacking the Abnegation. They will do this by projecting images into the minds of the Dauntless of Abnegation doing horrible things, but when the simulation is turned on, the Dauntless just become robots, obeying the command of the chip. What, then, is the purpose of the simulation? You are right; there isn’t one. The movie leaves this part out, by the way, so someone must have finally noticed the illogical nature of this plot development.

Moving on, let’s take a look at the Dauntless faction. This group is supposed to be responsible for keeping order as the military and police presence in the city. Yet, their training consists of mostly child-like, dangerous “YOLO” behavior like jumping off buildings, zip-lining, and beating each other unconscious. There is no disciplined basic training and respect taught. If anything, the Dauntless seem like hoodlums from which the citizens would need protection. The only thing in their training that really made sense was the fear simulations to face their greatest terrors. But even this has problems. At one point, the leaders get to watch Tris’s simulation. Wouldn’t one of her greatest fears be that they would find out she was Divergent? How could she hide it?

In the book, Tris overcomes her fear simulation by changing it through her thoughts–basically telling herself it isn’t real. Well, I don’t know why only Divergent people could do that; they all know they are in a simulation, but her simulations have to be erased over and over by people helping her so that she is not discovered. In the movie, Four tells her to face her fears like a Dauntless, looking for tools to use to find a way out, which would basically be Erudite, not Dauntless. Neither makes sense. For example, in the book when she is in Four’s simulation, they face walls closing in on them. Her answer in the book is to face it by making herself as small as possible, so the walls come even closer. In the movie, she shoves nails in the cracks to stop the walls, which isn’t really facing the fear.  In the movie, Four makes a point of telling her to hide her divergence in the simulations, but she doesn’t even try in the book.

Another thing that drove me crazy in the book was the explanation of the factionless. Roth writes: “Because they failed to complete initiation into whatever faction they chose, they live in poverty, doing the work that no one else wants to do. They are janitors and construction workers and garbage collectors; they make fabric and operate trains and drive buses. In return for their work they get food and clothing, but, as my mother says, not enough of either” (p. 25). But every time the factionless are mentioned, they are portrayed as homeless and starving. The Erudite want to completely destroy the factionless. Why? Do they want to collect the garbage and drive the buses? Do they want a person, fainting from hunger and not getting a good night’s sleep driving them around? It is a very insulting way to depict these careers as well, but it makes no sense to try and get rid of or not care for your working class. No one else wants to pick up the trash, I’m assuming. Why are they homeless and starving? Don’t they get paid, at least in food and shelter, for driving the buses and trains? If they are, why are they starving? If they don’t get enough, why do they do it? By the way, what’s up with the trains? They run them day and night only for the Dauntless to jump on and off of?

Speaking of jobs, don’t most jobs require one to be Divergent? For example, in the book the Abnegation are the medical personnel. Although I can see how selflessness would be nice in this profession, I would think intelligence or even a friendly bedside manner would be more important. Why are the Amity farmers? How does being friendly qualify one for agriculture? Doesn’t the military need intelligence and selflessness? I certainly think so. Seriously, how did this get past a professional editor?

This is what bothers me most. This is not a self-published book with no editor. This book has been professionally proofread, edited, and marketed. Why didn’t any of the number of people reading this before it came out catch this stuff and send it back to Roth, saying, “Fix this!?” Her publisher should have spent as much money on the editor as she did on the marketing crew. Again, I worry about being a hypocrite. My book isn’t perfect. There are things an editor, had I had one, would have insisted I change. But at least it makes sense in the world I created. It is logical. I don’t ask the reader to believe things with no explanation. “You’re just jealous,” you may say, “because her book is wildly successful and yours is not.” Maybe I am, but I don’t think so. I love when a good book wins awards, becomes successful, gets the attention it earns. But the fact that many writers like me work very hard to write a consistently believable book that doesn’t insult the readers’ intelligence, and a book like this sells millions and gets a movie deal is annoying. I am not at all annoyed when great books get the accolades they deserve.

One thing I won’t do is criticize Divergent for being a copy of The Hunger Games. It is nothing like The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games was good, really good, but beyond that, all dystopian novels can trace their roots back to either Brave New World or 1984. I don’t hear anyone criticizing Fahrenheit 451 for being derivative of Brave New World even though it is. It is a phenomenal book with its own original take on the dystopian world, and it can stand alone. Knowing how long it takes for a book to go through the publication process, I doubt that Roth even had the chance to read The Hunger Games before beginning to write her trilogy. By the way, check out Stephen King’s The Long Walk or The Running Man, both written long before the YA craze of dystopian science fiction came about,if you want similar to The Hunger Games.

I will attempt to end on a high note. Even though there are abundant problems with the whole premise of this dystopian world and numerous plot points that make absolutely no sense, the action and suspense in this novel are enough to make the reader forget about the lack of logic through much of the book. Much to my astonishment, I still enjoyed this book. I wanted to finish it and finish it quickly. I didn’t want to put it down, and I looked forward to picking it up. So, I know Roth has a talent for storytelling and decent prose; she just needs to slow down, think it through, and then get a good editor.

The movie, on the other hand, was not even entertaining. Although the movie tried to avoid some of the logic flaws by leaving out certain errors, it still did not make sense, and it was slow. Without the first person narrative of what Tris is thinking as she tries to work her way through the fear simulations and survive the Dauntless initiation, there is not enough to keep the viewer engaged or to divert the reader from the glaring illogic of the story. 2 out of 5 stars for the novel and 1 out of 5 for the movie.–Christina Knowles

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

17333223Finally– I finally finished the 771 page novel that is The Goldfinch.  I have never taken so long to finish a book before. Not just because this book was soooo long. I have read many long books, but this book had to be read slowly, absorbed. I do admit that it was not really a page-turner. This is an understatement. In fact, every time I had to put it down, I had no trouble at all. I actually looked forward to putting it down and had a hard time picking it back up. It’s not that it was a bad book, or even boring.  Actually, I found it very profound and am glad I read it. But let me start at the beginning.

This book is about a boy named Theo with an absent and alcoholic father and a loving mother, who is trying to raise him on her own.  While visiting an art museum, he and his mother get caught in a terrorist bombing. His mother is killed, he survives, and through a series of seemingly providential events, he meets an old man and his grand-daughter, steals a famous small painting called “The Goldfinch” in a confused and concussed stupor, and manages to find his way out of the carnage unnoticed in the chaos.

Theo experiences and suffers numerous things in the proceeding years, but always manages to hold on to the painting, maniacally attached to the famous and priceless work of art. He soon realizes what he’s done, but is both unwilling and afraid to give it up. The rest of the very lengthy book chronicles his life, living with post-traumatic stress, guilt, and fear, recording one bad decision after another in an almost ridiculous hyperbole.

As a reader I became somewhat fond of Theo, but who wouldn’t be after spending 771 pages with him? Still, after 771 pages, I would think I would be more attached to him. The characterization in this story is all right, but nothing to really speak of. The prose are eloquent, the descriptions striking and pictorial. The plot is wonderful. So what’s wrong with this book? Why did I look forward to putting it down and dread picking it up? Is it bleak, disheartening, cynical? Yes, as a matter of fact, it is, but that’s not it either. This book is dragged down with the weight of details, details, details. Endless details. I swear that this author takes thirty pages to say what most people could say in five. And I’m sorry; I don’t care how beautifully it is said, there comes a time when you just have to get to the point. Sometimes I would find myself dying to find out how something turned out or what someone said, but by the time five, ten, or fifteen pages went by, I would forget what it was I was waiting for. I was tempted over and over again to skim it, but a force seemed to hold me back, telling me that in all these details there had to be a purpose, a message that I was sure to miss if I half-heartedly scanned the pages.

It finally came. I must say the profundity of the last thirty pages made enduring the whole over-written story worth the reading. But even the ending was at least fifteen pages too long. When I finally achieved the nirvana of the story’s thematic message, I floated on this cloud for only a page or two when the repetitive, albeit beautiful, drone numbed my mind once again.

Still I marvel at the incredible perspicacity of Tartt. She paints this crazy, chaotic, hyperbolic story with its deeply flawed and sometimes unlikable protagonist, into an Impressionistic masterpiece that can only be fully understood as one backs up and takes in the whole picture, the whole really long, laboriously large picture. (Forgive the “artsy” metaphor-no pun intended.) And the irony of the depressing events Theo endures finally coming to a usable point through the philosophical ruminations of Theo’s drug-addled, abused, trouble-attracting, poor-decision-making childhood friend, Boris, was just superb. In one sublime page, the entire seemingly pointless suffering all seems to make sense. The book should have ended there, but no, Tartt needs to go on and on and on, almost condescendingly assuming that we didn’t quite “get it” yet. The book could easily have been done, and done well, in my humble opinion, in half the pages. One must ask, “What was her editor thinking?” Isn’t it the editor’s job to demand cuts where extraneous material invades? I can only assume that her editor must have been infatuated with Tartt’s beautifully descriptive and intelligent writing style.

The Goldfinch evokes such ambivalence in me that I still don’t know if I liked it or not. I will say this: I am so grateful that I read it, but I will never be reading it again. I am giving it 4 out 5 stars–5 stars for its deeply meaningful insight, but subtracting one for making me suffer so long to receive it.–Christina Knowles

What My Daughter Taught Me by Christina Knowles

4842_1117003739426_7812007_nTwenty-three years ago today (March 7, 1991) I gave birth to the most precious and beautiful little girl in the world. Her name is Valerie Elise Knoche. Little did I know then the power she would possess over me for my entire life. Children have a way of doing that. You bring them into the world, you care for them, you love them, you teach them, and try to raise them to be good people, but somewhere along the way, they become completely their own individuals, separate from you with their own ideas, ways of doing things, their own hopes, dreams, maybe even beliefs that differ from your own. Children are the only people in the world that you love utterly unconditionally. It doesn’t matter what they do, you will still love them. They could grow up to be serial killers, and most parents would be right there in the prison visiting them and bringing them cookies.  Well, luckily, my children both grew up to be everything I could have ever hoped for or dreamed they would be.BabyValerie

IMG_0298 Having a daughter is a unique experience. When Valerie was little, she was already independent, a little bit of a loner. Unlike her brother, Daniel, she needed her time alone for her imagination to flourish, and it did. She was always creative and still is to this day. She used to cut up her clothes (much to my dismay) and sew them into doll clothes when she was only four years old. They came out pretty well too. She made 3-D cities out of paper and tape and wrote poems as soon as she could write. Valerie loved to shut herself in her room and play by herself when she had too much of everyone else. She would stand up to anyone and didn’t often give into peer pressure. It was sometimes a struggle to get her to compromise with other children.

IMG_0223 Valerie always had a mind of her own, and I always respected her for this. I could see that she would grow into a strong and independent woman, a woman who could and would do anything she wanted. As she grew up, she became a bit of a tomboy. Her favorite clothes were her brother’s cast-offs, jeans and over-sized t-shirts. Even when she became a teenager and began dressing like a girl, I never had to tell her she couldn’t wear something out in public because she was always modest. She was athletic and crazy strong, especially for someone who was always tiny. She would carry her brother or me around the house just to show us how strong she was.


Surprisingly, Valerie liked to do a lot of the same things I did. We both love to draw and paint, make crafty things, love dogs and nature, we like many of the same TV shows and movies. We are both loners. I say it is surprising because, unlike most kids with their parents, it seems like she liked being compared to me, which is the greatest compliment I could have. I like being compared to her too. She is friendly, polite, talented, funny, and kind–she has a sweet heart, loves fiercely, and gives generously. Valerie is intelligent and determined. She’s a hard worker, has dreams, and works relentlessly toward their realization. I am proud to be her mother, and love the fact that we are friends as well.

I love to spend time with her, and she loves to spend time with me. She often comes over and spends the entire day with me on weekends. Sometimes we just talk and watch movies. Other times we hike, take a bike ride, go out for tea at Montague’s, shopping in Old Colorado City, or make crafts or scrapbook together. I visit her at the fire station and we hang out watching movies. Did I mention she is a firefighter?206050_2110461455248_4633097_n

1003003_10201202319854203_1877843792_n She is a certified firefighter and an EMT with a local station, and she also works in customer service with a phone company. Valerie has always had two or three jobs at a time, constantly, since she got out of high school. She plans on going back to school to continue in the medical field in some way–paramedic, nurse, maybe even a doctor someday. She has always been interested in medicine and healing. She likes to help people, stays calm under pressure, and once she saved a newborn baby’s life on a call. I told you I was proud.

OldColoradoCityValerie and I also have a love of holidays in common. We have traditions that we try not to miss each year. Every Halloween she comes over, and we watch scary movies and pass out candy to kids who come to the door. We elaborately decorate the house for all the different holidays. At Christmas time, she comes over and we bake Christmas cookies and watch the holiday classics: The Year Without a Santa Claus, Frosty, the Snowman, and Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer. Every year we brave the cold to go to Old Colorado City to Christmas shop in all the little indie stores and tourist shops. Even though she doesn’t live with me, she comes over first thing Christmas morning to open her stocking, which I fill every year. In the summer we roast marshmallows in the fire pit in the backyard and make s’mores.  We’ve done it in the fireplace as well when it was too cold outside.S'mores

It isn’t always perfect between us. We’ve had a few times when we argued and hurt each other. One time she was mad at me for six months and didn’t talk to me the whole time. That just about killed me. I think I cried myself to sleep more times during that six-month period than I have in my entire life. That’s what I mean about the power that children possess. When you have a child, they own a piece of your heart that you will never have control of again. They can cause you more sorrow than anyone on earth. When they hurt, you hurt. When they’re crushed, you’re crushed. When they’re joyful, you’re joyful. And when they say they hate you, it feels like you will die. When they’re teenagers, you feel like strangling them, but you would die in their place without a second thought.IMG_0512

Having a daughter like Valerie has taught me a great deal about myself, about unconditional love, about pain, about determination, and about dreams. Having children taught me that my capacity for love, joy, and heartbreak is limitless. Having a daughter has increased my love for my own mother as well. Maybe we don’t ever really understand our parents until we have children of our own. Maybe we don’t really understand what unconditional love is until we love a child. I love you, Valerie, my Petrushka. Happy birthday. –Momma


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