As I sit here, over 2000 miles from the author and the North Idaho setting of Jackie Henrion’s Rerooted, I feel as if my mind has emerged from a voyage during which both time and place were irrelevant, then re-shaped so to write this reflection. Moreover, I feel like I had to assemble abstract pieces of a puzzle, to reflect on the book. Henrion’s novel reminded me of Johnson’s introduction to “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” which describes Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s lifelong perplexity about Dickinson’s poem, “What embarrassed Higginson about the poems was his inability to classify them [...] what place ought to be assigned in literature to what is so remarkable, yet so elusive of criticism” (Johnson, 2). In the same way, I’m rummaging around, trying to find a category or classification for Henrion’s book.
It would be an injustice to simplify Henrion’s work as the fictionalized story of a woman “who escapes a brutal marriage in Michigan and arrives in the small North Idaho town in 1908” (Henrion). While in Michigan, character Marie Root came under the tutelage of a Chinese labor boss and a French Hotel owner who runs a brothel. In 1920, she seized an opportunity to redeem the hotel from a gambling debt and transformed it into a virtual finishing school for women by offering hospitality services. In this way, she managed to survive and thrive in the remote wilds of a male-dominated environment until her death in 1968; however, she recounted her various famous and infamous visitors with pragmatic gusto.
My initial impression was that of the detailed citations of the time frame, beginning with November 2016 and reaching as far back as 3700 b.c. The book seemed to be presented in no chronological order as if time were irrelevant—or perhaps—collapsed purposefully into a present tense. This was somewhat disturbing to me. When I questioned the author, she answered cryptically, “That’s a good start, for what disturbs [me], informs [me].” I felt frustrated and questioned her methods again. She responded, “Of course, that is your mind doing its job. It would prefer to conserve energy by being hand-led with a conventional narrative.” She sent me a reference to Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who wrote “Thinking: Fast and Slow.” I looked up the book on Amazon, read the sample, but balked at the book’s 500 pages, so I asked her about its relevance. She said:
"As I studied poetry at Naropa, I realized that sometimes it seems hard to understand. But by devoting the time to consider the possible meanings, which Kahneman calls the mind’s “System 2,” you start to realize that the extra effort is worth it. It requires an equal amount of creativity by the reader and a willingness to consider multiple meanings. Kahneman explains that the extra effort is kind of like a muscle. It’s worth the exercise, especially when changing [social] conditions call for new and creative solutions."
A similar effect was accomplished by changing the settings from the rural village of Hope, Idaho, to Mt. Pleasant Michigan, Brooklyn, and Vienna. In a further complication, “factoids” are dropped as clues or motifs, which only later act as “keys” one might acquire in a video game to overcome adversaries.
The primary character Marie Root wrote letters to a childhood friend as a journal to express her feelings and views, the rose motif was a unifying conceptual metaphor, and the “statement” was about female sexuality. I questioned the author about the letter, which sparked the following exchange:
"Letters are fascinating to me because they can be intimate without immediate reaction. Because they are addressed to a specific individual, they convey not only the author’s view but also to the characteristics of the receiver. In Marie Root’s case, her imagined childhood friend is an Ojibwa girl with whom she was raised, providing her with an unusual grounding in nature and philosophy. The letters inhabit a space between diary and essay. They require care in composition and word choice, rare in these days of instant and constant contact."
The wounds suffered by the protagonist in her abusive young marriage remind me of the those referred to by Gloria Anzaldúa in her essay “now let us shift...” when she says our new stories involve “the process of emotional psychical dismemberment, splitting body/mind/spirit/soul, and the creative work of putting all the pieces together in a new form” (Anzaldúa, 546). Henrion pointed me in the direction of another resource, “I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women.” She said part of her challenge in describing how Marie transcended her mental shock and how she searched for a form to present the issues of sexuality, was described in the introduction, “how does one create textual works where the authorial hold over the text is somehow distanced […] yet where the structural impact of experience of living, of loving, of knowing, of reading is in fact recognized” (Bergvall, 21). It seemed to me that Henrion achieved the experience of dislocation masterfully in the form she used. I felt equally confused as the protagonist, until the “blossoming” of her agency and independence.
For example, I found myself wondering if I really cared about the characters. I also wondered why the author has inserted snippets of her memoir into the anti-narrative progression. It was not until halfway through the book, where a Chinese lawyer in Spokane speaks about Marie Root with some heart “She had a quality of...em, perhaps it could be called respect, a kind of intimate respect, as if she were gathering all those who surrounded her in a kind of cradle or net...like safe...like home.” At that point, I found myself wanting to know more about the character and how she interacted with others. I could also detect that the author’s relationship with her mother and friend Jenny bore traces of a similar obscuring silence between episodes.
There are certainly some humorous sections dealing with a very straightforward attitude towards sexuality, quite modern and pragmatic for a woman in the early 1900s, but hard-won.
By the end of the book, Henrion provides a detailed and intellectually challenging explanation of her objectives and methods. It effectively explains some of the more abstract poems and reveals an ambitious experiment in form. I find myself thinking about sections of the book way after my initial reading. Even paging back through to verify information and implications of the complex and skillful weaving. If you enjoy crossword puzzles, you will enjoy this book, and you might even feel a little brighter through the discovery of it.
Author Jackie Henrion
Anzaldúa, Gloria E. & Keating, Anna Louise. “Now let us shift...the path of conocimiento...inner work, public acts” from this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation. Routledge, 2002. pp. 540-592
Bergvall, Caroline, et al. I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women. Les Figues Press, 2012.
Dickinson, Emily. Ed. Johnson, Thomas H. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Little, Brown and Company, 1961.
Henrion, Jackie. Personal encounter. 10 Oct. 2019
Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Kindle Edition.
When one goes to grab a snack, the average person usually won't go for the bag of pretzels. According to statista.com, out of the roughly estimated 329.76 million people in the United States, only 178.24 million Americans actually eat pretzels. Today—however—pretzels were my go-to snack. As I stood in front of the vending machine— looking at the different choices between chips, granola bars, and fruit snacks— for some reason, the pretzels caught my eye. Those salty, crisp, twisted pretzels became the thing to save me from my starvation. My sister and I sometimes discuss that people usually don't crave pretzels, unless they see someone else eating them. Not today! I punched the numbers in on the machine pad and watched the metal mechanics turn, releasing my snack. I rushed into my classroom, took a seat, and ripped open the bag. Those salty demons made my mouth dry, but I didn't care. As I ate them like a greedy child, my classmates looked wide-eyed at me. I felt sorry for them, so I offered them some pretzels too. They nodded like scavengers and helped me gobble down the snack. One of the students said they hadn't eaten pretzels in such a long time. So, maybe there is some truth to the observation that my sister and I made.
Weird fun pretzel fact:
According to Mobile-Cuisine.com, "President George W. Bush was munching on a pretzel in the White House when he choked and lost consciousness while watching the 2002 Baltimore-Miami NFL playoff."
It is easy to look past that homeless person on the curb of New York City. One thinks that someone else will help them; instead of taking the time to spare a dollar or two. One does not realize that any amount of charity would help. That homeless person has probably sat outside for days wishing for a nice warm meal or just a person to take pity on them. They need someone to help them through this hard time; however, instead, they are ridiculed for being in their position. According to an article titled “Basic Facts About Homelessness: New York City,” it states, In August 2019, there were 61,674 homeless people, including 14,806 homeless families with 21,802 homeless children, sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system. Families make up more than two-thirds of the homeless shelter population (coalition for the homeless, para. 4).
Humans are too quick to judge at times. One tends to think, just because they are doing well, the rest of the world does not matter as much. This is the biggest error in the way Americans think. The United States is supposed to be the land of equal opportunity; however, if a person is being judged on physical appearance, ethnicity, gender, and so on, then how are we making an equal playing field for all? The homeless person is not given the time of day because of their outward appearance; however, who knows what that person might be capable of doing if they only had the right guidance. The crack in our American system is the lack of compassion and kindness.
If one was to look at the head article of a news story, what would the story be on? Most of the time the story would be on issues, wars, problems, and strife, which are all caused by a lack of compassion. Anna Funder, an Australian author of the books “All That I Am” and “The Girl with the Dogs,”states, “Most people have no imagination. If they could imagine the sufferings of others, they would not make them suffer so.” Something that I watched recently which has stuck with me is a video by Moby & The Void Pacific Choir entitled “Are You Lost in the World Like Me?”
The video portrays a young boy who is traveling throughout New York City. The boy is surrounded by the self-intoxicated city, which only focuses on their own needs, instead of others. In the video, the people are so wrapped up in themselves that they are unwilling to help the boy. As the boy continues on his journey, he sees just how heartless the people are. They are seen pushing each other, having zero patience, sexually harassing one another, kicking puppies, and even publicly humiliating one another. At one part of the story, it shows a girl who felt the weight of her public humiliation so intensely that she decided to take her life by jumping from a skyscraper. Instead of the people trying to reason with her and save her, they are seen filming her plummet to her death.
This video by Moby & The Void Pacific Choir tries to portray just how far our American value system has fallen. We need to waken out of our blind slumber and have a compassionate heart. Walt Whitman stated it best in his poem “I Sit And Look Out:”
I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done;
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate;
I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid—I see these sights on the earth;
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be kill’d, to preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;
All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.
The only way to fix this problem in our society is by taking that first step of compassion. Instead of waiting for someone else to initiate love and charity, we need to be the ones who are willing to give a helping hand. We are given tongues to be able to speak the truth and to stand up for what is right. We need to all band together to stop the corruption of our nation from happening. We need to help heal the world of its uncompassionate nature.
“Basic Facts About Homelessness: New York City.” Coalition For The Homeless, https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/basic-facts-about-homelessness-new-york-city/.
Whitman, Walt. 83. I Sit and Look Out. Whitman, Walt. 1900. Leaves of Grass, https://www.bartleby.com/142/83.html.
All of us have been there... textbooks piled high on the desk, music blasting, coffee crazed, exhausted, and eyes glazed while re-reading the same sentence over and over again. We start to regret going out the other night, instead of staying home and finishing that assignment. Our brain starts to hurt as we try to figure out how many hours we have left until the deadline hits. Well... that's where I am right now, folks. Instead of doing my homework like a "responsible college student," I procrastinate and watch the minutes tick by. Of course, this is causing me to stress out, but come on... why would there be so many assignments due by different professors on the same day? I swear college is just a place where brightly polished, innocent young-adults are sent, only to be crushed by the demanding pressure of the education system. To be assigned an essay, a 10-minute podcast, have to study for a midterm, and finish up an article for a class, should be a crime. Honestly, I wonder if these professors were given the same task and the same deadline if they would be able to accomplish all of the work that they subject us students too.