Sunday, March 30, 2014

I am a canoe (and other summations of March-y feelings)



It has been an unspeakable kind of Winter, but with new streaks of sun motivating me to scrub scary dark places and organize neglected pan cupboards, I think I shall endeavor to speak it.


I have been in hibernation for 22 months.  Yes, I suppose I have always been unsatisfied as a stay-at-home-mom, this much is true.  It wasn't that it wasn't meaningful work or even that I was unhappy, but that it was not enough to make me be the most me. 

I had been actively looking for work for almost two years, and had all but given up on the search when my previous employer contacted me about a technical writing position (one I had, in fact, applied for several months ago, but they took me on as a contractor instead). 

 I jumped at the chance and for exactly the 15 minute ride home from the job offer meeting to arriving at Jess's to pick up Bowie, I was elated, empowered, and really excited.  

Then something odd happened.  I started feeling these chords yanking, these ties binding.  They were not unwanted, and their presence wasn't entirely a surprise; however, their intensity surely was!  The bond with Bowie had always been there, but without it being yanked on, I suppose I didn't realize how strong it was.  For the next three weeks (to now, as I write), I have been decidedly heartsick.  No one I knew could watch Bowie full time, so I was left with having to hire a nanny.

I realize so many people do this, and so many people have practice that I never had at leaving their kids with people they didn't know (and how I will become accustomed as well, building a necessary callous to the pain).  I realize now how hard it is for people to leave their children, how many people we interact with daily are in a torn place, actively fighting guilt and confusion about how to maintain themselves, their work, and their families.  Surely I wasn't carefree before kids (have I ever been carefree without help from gin?),  but it's awfully tempting to remember it thusly.  The freedom of decisions, the leaving the house easily, the simplicity.




I looked around me and began to notice that perhaps every parent feels these yanks when they are apart from their children.  My thoughts further horrified me into realizing that perhaps these yanks NEVER STOP.  When I wanted a baby, I wanted a BABY.  I never thought fully about the fact that she would spend the majority of her life on earth NOTWITHME.  Perhaps it gets easier, perhaps not.  

These thoughts spiraled me into a pit of mud-soaked anxiety and deep weepiness. My heart began to feel bigger than my brain.  Where once I had developed a logical distance from Bowie's crying, now every single time she cries I am flooded with horrible visions of abandonment and sadness.  I cried during the singing time at preschool.  I cried making her breakfast.  I cried in my bedroom while trying to work from home and hearing her say my name desperately.  This reaction bothered me, yes because I fancy myself an evolved mother who can see beyond her instincts (I KNOW she is not abandoned or traumatized, but feeling the transition deeply and doesn't know what to expect each day now), but more because it hurt.  It fucking hurt.




I think I am more dealing with the truth of my long-term place in Bowie's life than I am about leaving her with a nanny for the next months.  I will not know everything about her from now on, know everything she ate or said, know how much she slept, know her mood.  My job is to raise someone to take care of themselves and in so doing extend themselves and their own resources out into the world.  I cannot keep us in this bubble, this little stage of life where it's just she and I and we sit at home and read.  Not only because I can't, but more importantly - because I don't want to, and that simply has to mean something.

I need help; I need work; I need my own thing.  I need Bowie to see a woman pursuing herself and working outside of the home (or staying home) as an empowered, free choice.  Not just because she has to financially (another nuanced question to wrestle with here.  It's hard to think that we are all miserable because I wanted this change, not because life forced it upon us.  It's my doing.), but because she is most fulfilled in this manner.

Oh, the shitshow that was finding a nanny.  I thought I had one that was fabulous, but she took another position in a strange miscommunication.  I then flew up my mom last minute, and she stayed with Bowie for two weeks while I interviewed and hired someone else.  15 conversations, 7 candidates, 5 interviews, 1 hired nanny from SPU (she's awesome! English Lit major!) and then all the logistics of training and care. So.Ex.x.x.hausting.









But then there was the work, the work that I wanted so badly, the work that would make the leaving her okay.  Only it wasn't.  It never will be.  That sick little punch-to-the-gut lesson being learned, I began to enjoy the work immensely.  I am doing more marketing technical writing than technical writing, and I absolutely love it so far.  I get to be on the cutting edge of exciting technology AND get PAID TO WRITE. PAIDREALMONIESTOWRITEWORDS.  It's magic.  Each task feels almost tailor-made to my desires and strengths, and the work culture is fabulous.  My manager is perfectly suited to me (former teachers unite) and I have the flexibility in scheduling I need.  There are significant challenges in staying creative all day, but I welcome the use of atrophied brain muscles.  

First day of work bathroom self-portrait


I want both lives; I guess I'm greedy that way.  But I do feel severed.  Heart-wrenchingly torn.  Stuck between two shores of a lake like a canoe set adrift **.  I am buried in it and holding on. It's harder than I ever imagined.

But I know myself, know what I need to be happy, and have done everything in my power to make sure Bowie knows she is loved and known.  I've taken pains to ensure that this new person in her life will be just another chapter in the Bowie book, the same story I've been telling her all along.



Bowie, you are loved and love is everything.
Bowie, look up.
Bowie, you are worth attention and respect.
Bowie, you are independent and capable.
Bowie, you are a part of something bigger than yourself and you must contribute your passions to find meaning.
Bowie, you are not immune to the confusing conflicts of life.
Bowie, you are allowed to be scared.
Bowie, you are never alone.
Bowie, you have your own story and the power and support to write it however you desire.
Bowie, you have to learn to let go and are able to courageously adapt.
Bowie, dance it out.
Bowie, question everything.
Bowie, be courageous, but know that caution is not lack of courage.  Be wise.
Bowie, live long and prosper.

It's the same story I read myself night after night.
It's a page turner.

crm


**my favorite song/band right now.  sorry about the lude cover, but it makes me laugh.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The New Table

Journal Entry
21 (or 20?) feb 2014



I sit at the new table Joel found for us.  He and Tice went on a clandestine mission to retrieve it from a craigslist seller and then hid it in the garage until xmas morning.  It's great, actually.  Copper and wood.  Circular and modest, though interesting.  The last 4 nights, we've sat at it all together for dinner.  Usually, we feed Bowie around 6pm in the kitchen.  Then as one person bathes her and puts her to bed, the other makes grown-up dinner - having always horded that time alone together.  She's beginning to enter the stage where it's better to eat with her in order to model table manners and family connection, and we've also noticed ourselves to be in a rut...making a late dinner and eating while watching Star Trek until 10:30pm or so.  So this way, we are working to face each other again.  It was awkward and unpracticed at first (surprising to us how quickly we'd lose the skill, since the majority of our marriage was spent at a dinner table), but now I feel deeply satisfied and fulfilled by the new routine.  New routines always fill me, though not at first.  Two weeks in, I'm inspired and impressed with the human desire and ability to change.  Going on four weeks of keeping to a workout regimen has made me quite satisfied with myself.

I sit at the new table Joel found for us.  I hear my music played in the living room. Ambient but full of movement and peace.  The sound of black sky pushing stars to the front of the line.    I hear my husband speaking praises to Bowie enthusiastically as he gives her a bath. I hear the shower gently pelting the bath water, a new routine of hers...to sit in the water but run the shower.  Playing in warm rain.  Closing the curtain and asking for privacy. Joel encouraging, laughing, instructing her, giving her little challenges.  "Can you reach that soap bottle?" "Want to relax?"  This is when she will lay back and he'll hold her afloat.  She'll often loose herself in his eyes and quietly say, 'Papa.'

I sit at the new table Joel found for us. I'm purposefully neglecting the sound in my head that tells me I'm neglecting my duties.  Usually, I would be cleaning the kitchen or straightening her toys or putting out pjs and turning on the space heater in her bedroom.  We've made an agreement that if one person does bath/bed, the other cleans or cooks or gets ready for the evening in some way (pouring more wine, lighting candles, queuing up Star Trek), but Joel has told me he doesn't mind if I relax (what's new? I've NEVER heard him say otherwise) so I sit here at the new table.  Dishes still uncleared, food consumed.  These plates literally an empty symbol of the privilege I possess to fill the bellies of my family, aching as I imagine what it must feel like to not be able to. I made Ina Garten's meatloaf recipe and mashed potatoes with rosemary salt and sweet corn.  I'm nursing a French Sav Blanc, Joel opened a Spanish blend (grenace/monastrell).

I sit at the new table Joel found for us and check in with myself.  Yes, the familiar fatigue.  The same nagging question.  The eternal presence of discontent which asks too much of me; a lie that always wraps up the lives of others' into more beautiful packages.  Motherhood keeps me so busy, though I couldn't tell you at what.  I want something more, but I cannot conceive of a way to add or sustain anything else.  Writing has been on the back burner in lieu of mirepoix and caramelizing onions and chopping garlic.  Reading turned over a new leaf and now I exercise, making me too tired to read when I used to - at nap time and bed time.  A new satisfaction, but an empty journal and neglected piles of library books.

I sit at the new table Joel found for us and marvel at our power and determination of connection, considering how different our lives are right now.  The most divergent they've ever been.  He, in a constant barrage of conversation, tasks, and stimulation as time bolts from his day.  Me, in a constant barrage of shallow solitude, that is to say I am alone, but never quiet.  Too much reflection, not enough purpose.  Not enough of the tasks that make me feel important and too much of the tasks that actually are important.  It's confusing.

Later, I'll clear the table and smirk at Joel's voice reading to Bowie.  She has such an opinion quite suddenly regarding the books she wants to read.  Smugly, I love that she prefers the BabyLit books (esp Wuthering Heights).  I'm illogically proud, and then I remember that to be a good parent is to force your kids to like cool things.

After I leave this table, I'll sink into the hand-me-down couch next to Joel and watch Star Trek (Voyager. Our 2nd time through.)  We'll finish off our bottles.  We'll eat something sweet. We'll say goodnight.



[crm]


Friday, February 14, 2014

A Day in Love



8:20 am
Making spinach pie

9:17am
Reading to Bowie

9:40am
Workout 

11:20am

11:30am
Bowie helps me cook

11:45am
Table set for luncheon with Aunt Kelly

12:32pm
A delicious meal for two with pink wine

1:09pm
An unexpected visitor requests my care

2:15pm
Aunt Kelly graciously allows B to access her iPhone

4:15pm
Family time

 5:09pm 
Rinsing beets for dinner

5:27pm 
B helps with Mt. Dishes


6:56pm 
Bath


7.05 PM
Heart Ribeye

7:50pm
Dinner of beet/goat cheese salad with blood oranges and fresh rosemary vinaigrette and a thyme-butter poached  ribeye. Gin martini to boot.

8:49pm
Red velvet cupcake w/ cream cheese frosting

9:40pm
"The Apartment" circa 1960 and 2009 Barbara

10:52pm
Bath 


11.11pm
It's an order.


Really, whatever love you feel today - love for self, love for chocolate, love for books, love for a job, love for breath. It all counts.  

I just didn't expect, ever expect...
to feel it on all accounts.

Good Night LoveBirds.
crm

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Allowances

Tuesday of last week


Tuesday of this week
I have to say that sometimes the contradictions of life are so jarring.  One week, I am sitting poolside with beautiful waiters bringing me drinks and forgetting that I was ever frustrated by motherhood or scared of death.  The next, I am sitting in the gray light, sipping coffee from a Mexican cup with a beautiful baby bringing me puzzle pieces, forgetting that I was on vacation only a few days ago.  

Sidenote:
Have you ever tried to read while in the company of a toddler?  At this stage, it's an exercise in getting her used to Momma having her contemplative minutes in the morning...that she is to entertain herself.  I need to her to understand that not every single moment of my awakeness is dedicated solely to her needs and entertainment.  This being said, almost every morning I end up laughing (or crying) because it's hilariously comic to try and read or write while she stands next to me, scratching the pages, throwing books or toys into my lap, or furiously signing "help!" to climb up to the couch.  


Life with a toddler
life at all, for that matter
seems to me
to be all about
allowances

I allow her to see me making allowances for myself, despite her needs.
I allow myself to make allowances for her, despite my convictions.

I suppose I mean to say this morning,
in the gray light,
sipping coffee from my Mexican cup,
that sometimes life is confusing because we make it confusing.
We rigidly decide how it will look
forming contracts with divinities
to guarantee pleasure
and avoid pain.

When the realities of life set in
sometimes the grief's source
is our very noncompliance,
our stubbornness to accept a fate we never agreed to.

This morning, I read this as Bowie tugged at me:
"...perhaps nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion.  Perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched.  Maybe the only enemy is that we don't like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast.  But what we find is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.  If we run a hundred miles in an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive.  It just keeps returning with new names, forms, and manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves."
Pema Chodron 
When Things Fall Apart


There was a heaviness I was able to momentarily shake in Mexico.  Upon returning to Washington, I returned to the burden of bearing up under life, with all its fight and confusion.  I'm engaged in a continued exhaling prayer for Kelly's healing.  I'm perpetually breathing in the sacrifices and bravery required to maintain a monogamous commitment with my dearest soul, Joel. I'm repeatedly reminding Bowie and I that our lives are a fight for gracious balance, kind acceptance, and simple clarity.

And I'm sipping a margarita by the pool.
And I'm sipping coffee in the gray.

And making allowances.
This is my life.
I love it.

p.s. 





Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2013: Year in Books

Everyone has a thing by which to measure a day.  For some, it's mediation.  Others cook.  Some write, others watch their show.  Whatever it is that you consider important enough to do daily...whatever it is that you think "I wish I had done that" at the end of each day, that's what I mean.  For me, it's reading.  Whenever I turn out my light and lay down to sleep, I feel a pang of regret if I didn't read at all that day.  For some reason, reading daily - even more than writing daily - is deeply important to me.  I need to be in a book at all times even if I am not reading voraciously or even daily.  On the rare occasions when I am wavering between what to read next, I begin to feel itchy in my skin, agitated behind my eyes, and empty in the heart.  After having my daughter in 2012, I had a year of very little reading - though I did read more than I thought (and everyone else said) I would.

In January of 2013, I enrolled in a class I saw advertised on a mother community group I belong to.  "Writing through transformation" or something like that.  It sounded like the perfect outlet and return to my brain, from whom I had been too long estranged that year.  I took that workshop all year, 3 installments.  From that group, I now have 5 new friends that know more about me than most.  I produced more writing this year than perhaps any other of my life, a good return on the expensive workshops.

What I didn't expect was how much the writing would wet my appetite to read again.  I spent the first part of the year reading entirely creative non-fiction - a new genre to me.  Toward Fall,  I began to crave fiction again and joined a reading group on Goodreads (Short and Sweet Treats) to motivate me.  This year, I read a total of 22 books, a significant increase from the 8-10 books per year average I've had for the last 7 years.  This list also does not include all the assigned reading we did for class - roughly 50 essays.  Many of these sparked the interest in the books I chose to read this year.

Another thing I am pleasantly surprised by and proud of:  Every Single One of These Authors Has Lady Bits!!

So here they are, in order of most recently read:

Listening Against the Stone: MeditationsListening Against the Stone: Meditations by Brenda Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have read a few collections of Brenda Miller's essays before and was less compelled by them as this collection.  I was introduced to her by my writing teacher as one of the frontrunners of flash nonfiction.  She is also a local Washingtonian, so that feels somehow important.

At first glance, Miller seems simple enough.  A single woman writing about her past life, lovers, losses.  But as you ruminate on the essays, reading one and then another so that they build into a full photo of a woman's life, you realize how brilliantly they are crafted.  There are details shared that were so terribly vulnerable - details enough to usher you into her living room and count yourself a friend - but you also fully know that you actually don't know anything at all about her.  You could BE her, for all you know.  This kind of universality and relatability and cosmic otherness and commitment to spirituality is what keeps me coming back to Miller.

If you have only a few minutes each day, I suggest the following essays in this collection:
"I Need a Miracle"
"Music of the Spheres" - especially if you are a writer
"How to Meditate"
"Infant Ward"
"Raging Waters"
"The Burden of Bearing Fruit" - perhaps my favorite
"Our Daily Toast"
"Bodyguard"




Their Eyes Were Watching GodTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Women who love deeply but eventually end up saving themselves?! Why, yes. Don't mind if I do.

After closing this book, what lingers most is the poetry of Hurston's bare-bone, simple, but somehow still languid words.  The language is stunning, lyrical but poignant somehow.  She manages to weave together phrases that shouldn't match - like someone speaking nonsense, saying "The egged belt has been bolted godly and ran toward the earth's core" but it somehow making complete, gut-wrenching sense.  They are the words of a woman whose DNA has known deep, cruel, simple suffering. They make sense, and they hurt.

Janie is never angry, but the writing is so superb that Hurston helps the reader find her own anger through good story-telling and a matter-of-fact "this is how things were" voice.  She never makes the judgement for the reader, an imperative in classic fiction - as it will stand the test of time, however society comes to feel about American slavery.

Interesting not only as a piece of fiction, but in historical study, this book had me dwell on the generational strain slavery and emancipation had on both the "freed" slaves and their children's children.  How Janie's grandmother wanted something more for Janie - something Janie herself didn't want. The freedom to even dream of following your own desires was new, and here we see the first generation of American freed slaves doing just that...but crippled in skill and independence. They were allowed to dream for more, but not taught how to be more. Somewhat like ex-convicts being ill-equipped to live outside of the walls of prison, these black people wander about freed but not fully free - as no human can be fully free without education, skill, and purpose. Hurston reveals that human traits such as wisdom, love, wonder of god and man - that none of these differentiate race or gender. A subtle education in sameness without any brow-beating of the reader.  It's such a revelation of the atrocities of slavery, of how being owned is vastly more insidious psychologically than it is physically.  

I am also left with one of the last passages, where Janie is talking to her friend Phoebey about the lesson she learned through her two love affairs.

"Love ain't somethin' lak un grindstone dat's de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch.  Love is lak de sea.  It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore."

Though we are same, we do not love the same.  We cannot judge what we do not know.




My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A bible for the introvert, this is a book I will keep by my bedside as a kind of manual for life. Reading this has changed my life.

I am not new to the plight of the introvert.  Many years ago, I read one of the only books published on introversion at the time, "The Introvert Advantage."  It was life changing, but more self-help directed.  It focused on how to live as an introvert, once you have identified yourself as such and gotten over the shame society instills in you for being so.

This book is vastly different, but expounds on the same ideas.  It is more logical, statistical, highly researched, and dense to read.  It focused on introverts in the workplace, education, and the family unit.  Case study after case study is woven in and out of Cain's personal anecdotes which makes it easy to read despite its dense content.

I highly recommend to anyone - especially if you are, are married to, in any kind of relationship with, work with, or birthed an introvert. Basically, every human needs to read this.



Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before you freak out, reader who knows that I said I would NEVER read these books - know this.

1. Apparently everyone is entitled to reading guilty pleasure, completely non-challenging, quick reads that the masses love. Huh.

2. This was my experiment in doing so.

I do not think it was especially well-written, but it did provide a thoroughly engrossing escape from my own life.

I plan to continue the series and shall update you as I go.



My AntoniaMy Antonia by Willa Cather
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a thoroughly enjoyable, important read! The pace was exactly right.  Without any sensationalism or compelling sense of plot, I found myself turning page after page.  One of the things that will always stick with me was that Cather decided to write the narrator through a male voice - and she did it so fairly.  I have always revered Cather, but now I know why.

If you don't know her work and are curious about reading this - I say DO.  It has a "Little House on the Prairie" feel to it (please no offense - sad comparison).  It's episodic in nature...with the narrator Jim Burden becoming our lens through which we hear and know the main character, Antonia Shimerda.  A Bohemian immigrant, Antonia learns what life in Nebraska looks like in situations both quaint and terrible.

The reader ends the book with a feeling that Cather intended - to glorify the American west and remind current modernists that life is better when it is simpler, when it is not isolated city-dwelling.

Some of the language is also so very beautiful, it could take even the most non country person and give them a craving for sitting in tall grass and working hard with the land.  It's obvious that Cather preferred this life herself.



My rating: 4 of 5 stars
You know Shirley Jackson from reading her haunting short story, "The Lottery" in high school.  I've never read anything of hers other than that, and I have to say this book was a delightful surprise.  I've been on a non-fiction bend, so perhaps this being my first fiction in months has to do with my enjoyment, but this tale is superbly crafted.

A gothic story, set in backwoods xxx (of course), that scares us in a place deeper than horror or terror.  Jackson presents this story with such patience and brooding, quaint characters living a simple life.  It also delivers a twist - although the pace of the writing sets us up for such a thing.

I kept thinking it was a perfect October read - a bit like Flannery O'Connor meets "Geek Love."  But short, sweet, and addicting! 



My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Though notably cerebral, I can't decide if the book is obtuse or just ill-timed to my current personal literary inklings. Either way, I found it irrelevant and didn't finish it. However, the language was beautiful and she's obviously a force.







My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a brutal read, but one I finished in two days.  Responding to memoir as a craft, I think the author had a story here no matter what.  Anyone could have written it.  However, no one could have written it with +the indelible, unflinching, grueling voice she did.  I was very impressed not only with her craft, but also with her refusal to tie everything up nice and neat; she fought the temptation to make the story of her unthinkable loss easy for anyone to swallow. I think the thing that made it so compelling for me was my own desire to get to the point where it was okay, where this brilliant woman who is utterly beaten by the death of her children, husband, and parents finds a new normal.  This novel is a rare example of the marriage between a sensational story, great writing, and a quick, addicting read.





My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Enjoyable and crafted well, but I've certainly read better. Cheryl Strayed recommended this, but I don't entirely know why. I liked it, but wouldn't suggest it to anyone.







Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I think of this book, I think of the demon mother Jeanette finally has the freedom to write about. Shocking in many ways, one cannot help but turn the pages to see not only what new abuse the mother will say to her daughter, but also to perpetuate the hope that we as people can recover from our parent's unanswered questions - the questions we inherit for better or worse.

That being said, I think the memoir lost me in a few places. I had to remind myself to read it once the sensational parts were over - most notably when she launched into the history of her English village.

Overall, an entertaining read and an important memoir.



My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An important read if you are any of the following:
1. A female
2. A male
3. A mother
4. Never having kids
5. Thinking about never having kids
6. Have kids
7. Human.

Valenti is a  new mother and feminist who FINALLY takes on motherhood and all it's societal junk from an intellectual, well-researched POV. As a new mother myself, I found I was drawn to her grand message, which is that women cannot and should not be expected to DO IT ALL. Since having children to make us happy is a completely modern notion anyway, we must learn to adjust our expectations of parenthood and remove the pressure on children to be the impetus behind familial fulfillment.

Why do Americans report a lower statistic of happiness after they have children?  Why do divorced men with half custody report the highest statistic of parental fulfillment?  Why do attachment theories require ALL the work to be done by the mother?  Why are stay-at-home moms one of the highest depressed groups in our nation?  Why do couples who are egalitarian in gender roles before they have children almost always pushed into them once they have kids?

Did you know that "one in four married mothers - 5.6 million women - stay at home with their kids. (Only 165,000 fathers do the same)" p157.  When men DO stay home, they are anomalous and exonerated whereas it is expected of women.

Valenti takes on all of these question and more. She answers them too.  She stresses community, true village raising (not just saying "it takes a village" and then demanding females are the only natural caretakers AND the lie that children are best cared for solely by their mothers).

A few kernels that stuck with me"

"We need to prepare parents emotionally and put forward realistic images of parenthood and motherhood.  There also needs to be some sort of acknowledgement that not everyone should be a parent - when parenting is a given, it's not fully considered or thought out, and it gives way too easily to parental ambivalence and unhappiness." p107

"The truth is, we can simultaneously love parenting, find it fulfilling and valuable while also recognizing that the minutiae of mothering isn't as critical as society would have use believe. We can love our children without thinking they world revolves around them.  We can derive pleasure from care-taking without thinking it's the most important thing we'll ever do or the biggest contribution to society we'll ever make  And we can be exhausted, overworked moms while still recognizing that there are plenty of other jobs that are harder! More important.  Because when we see parenting as a relationship - not a job - we can free ourselves from the expectations and stiffing standards that mothers are important NOT because of motherhood or biologically attachment (or not) to baby.  Mothers are important because they are ONE of MANY critical caregivers to little humans. " p74

"And really, how insulting is it to suggest that the best thing a woman can do is raise OTHER people to do important things."p74

"The truth about parenting is that the reality of our lives needs to be enough.  Seeking out an ideal that most of us can never reach is making us, and our kids, miserable." p165

A fabulous, informative read that has broken through a lot of shame and guilt for me, staying home with my daughter.



The Mercy PapersThe Mercy Papers by Robin Romm
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel an odd need to defend this book because I made the grave mistake of reading other people's reviews here on Goodreads.  One in particular censured Romm for her selfishness and heavily criticized her choices about medicating her mother in her mom's last days.  I need to say that writers do not write memoir because they are
1-100% sure of every single choice they have ever made
2-willing themselves as an example for every human
3-asking for approval

As the reader, it is not for us to JUDGE her actions as a part of her writing.  Judge her actions, whatever...but that shouldn't necessarily be a part of a reader's review.  I find it petty and uncareful.

That being said.  This was a vivid read, though slow to begin.  The last few chapters sing with a honesty rare to the treatment of loss.  It feels empty, void.  As it should.  I admire her courage and will defend her to the end for this.  It could have easily been tidying up, but instead of making up something beautiful about how she felt her mother was now in a better place, instead she trusted her readers enough to tell us that she mainly just felt annoyed at the funeral.  That she struggled with resentment of all who supported her...mainly because they were living.

I don't know how lasting an impression it made on me for the craft of memoir, but it will stay with me for a long time because of the subject matter. A lovely continuation of my study in creative non-fiction.  A must read if you are there as well, but as far as a general read...not suited for all.



Daily Rituals: How Artists WorkDaily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will buy this, it's accessible and fascinating! Additionally I have learned that coffee is vital to every artist.





The Year of Magical ThinkingThe Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the barebones eloquence of her language, like she is pulling no punches while simultaneously not bullshitting anyone. The story is compelling not only because it's sad, but more because it feels we are getting an intimate account if her year rather than hearing a story about her grief. It's not neatly tied up or didactic in any regard. Very intelligent, very revealing, but still very simple and private.  An inspiring example of good memoir.



The Chronology of WaterThe Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have such a mixed bag of reactions to this book and Yuknavitch's writing in general.  The first chapter is excellent; a magnificent introduction into the book and into her style.  I was assigned the chapter as a reading for a writer's workshop, and from 4 pages, I picked up the book from the library.

In general, I loved the style once I got used to it.  I was offended at her prideful "I can do whatever the fuck I want with words" attitude - mainly because she says that between she and another writer (I forget who) - they invented this new irreverent genre.  This is, of course, entirely untrue.   I feel there is a universal truth about language, and that is if we want to take artistic liberties with it, we should still know how to follow the preset rules.  Fuck the rules, but know them before you break them.  I get the sense that she didn't really know them or care about them.  That is her prerogative, but it did alienate me as a reader.

She continually forced me to walk the line between loving and hating the book, between comfort and agitation.  She wrote pornographic chapters that seemed unnecessary to me other than to arouse her readers (perhaps her point?  No doubt I have much to learn about this?).  She wrote so beautifully of her tragedies and after a shocking bout of sexual confessions, would write with surprising subtlety.

There are chapters I disrespect where the writing feels gimmicky, amateur, defensive.  I feel my self-rightousness voice emerge "This isn't art! I'm wasting my time reading the word fuck over and over again. The first chapter KILLED me, as I read it with a glass of wine.  I cried within the first few paragraphs. It was so beautiful and her form fully expressed her grief - bare, bizarre, unapologetically sad. I loved it, but from that chapter until much later in the book, just felt like I was reading smut. She had such a highly-sexualized life and point of view, and don't enjoy mixing reading with arousal.

Then, as she progresses, and you see her life as total shit, you begin to feel a combo of sick and personally defensive.  Like I have no brazen shit to write about, no deep secret. This is the judgey voice of comparison.  On one hand, "Who does she think she is, published with such little talent?" On the other hand, "Well, congrats on your shitty-ass life which means you will judge me for being too weak to handle your dysfunction and subject matter." But THEN.

The chapter "My lover, my writing" is so good. It's still modern, which I may always find less inspiring than subtle, vocabulary-heavy, ancient texts.   She is hard to absorb, and for that, I respect what she was trying to do.  It's not a sweet story, but I also feel like she doesn't like me, the reader.  Interesting technique?

I think what this book leaves with me the most is her nonlinear structure.  She used water as her structure for telling her life story, not time.  This is deeply fascinating and the book is put together superbly.  In general, it feels important to memoir, but wasn't my favorite.  I wouldn't recommend the whole book, but several of the chapters are a necessary and amazing read.



How to Be a WomanHow to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This bitch is funnnyyy.

And also important, right, and clever.

But mainly, she's FUNNY. Though I don't entirely agree with her rants about shoes (no heels!), unders (full-bum for true feminists, she says), or Lady Gaga (still just can't get behind the bad music!), on all these items and more, she has given me pause...mainly in the form of a snorty, oh-my-gawd-i'm-texting-this-to-my-friends-right-now kind of way.

I enjoyed every empowered, salacious bit.  Though every chapter was entertaining and informative, I have to say that either because they are a few of the last chapters I read or because they are poignant to my life right now, but the chapters "Why you should have kids," and "Why you shouldn't have kids" are dead-on impressive, hilarious, and poignant - and I was really tired of funny birth stories.  Describing that kind of pain just never felt possible, well, until now.

From "Why you should have kids" - Chapter 12
On the perspective gained from labor, "In that respect, childbirth is far superior to Zoloft or therapy. Fairly early on in the event, you will have the most dazzlingly simple revelation of your life, that the only thing that really matters, in this whole goddamn crazy, mixed-up world, is whether or not there is something the size of a cat stuck in your cervix, and that any day when you do NOT have a cat stuck in your cervix will be, by default, wholly perfect in every way"(218).

"To be frank, childbirth gives a woman a gigantic set of balls.  The high you get as you realize it's over, and that you didn't actually die, can last the rest of your life.  Off their faces with euphoria and bucked by how brave they were, new mothers finally tell the in-laws to back off, dye their hair red, get driving lessons, become self-employed, learn to use a drill, experiment with Thai condiments, make cheerful jokes about incontinence, and stop being scared of the dark"(218).


From "Why you shouldn't have kids" - Chapter 13
"While motherhood is an incredible vocation, it has no more inherent worth than a childless woman simply being who she is, to the utmost of her capabilities.  To think otherwise betrays a belief that being a thinking, creative, productive, and fulfilled woman is, somehow, not enough.  That no action will ever be the equal of giving birth"(238).

"Feminism needs Zero Tolerance over baby angst.  In the 21st century, it can't be about who we might make, and what THEY might do, anymore.  It has to be about who we are, what we're going to do" (239).

Really, thoroughly enjoyable.  Her premise is to bring laughter to the feminist arena, that it's one of the only ways to truly cope with the MASSIVE SEXISM rampant (though pernicious because it's mostly subtle and "unintentional").



The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young WomenThe Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yo! Women are still oppressed!

Just a little background about me, so you can understand my review.  I was raised in a Christian home and sent to purity rallies, and I decided to wait until I was married to have sex, as did my husband.  Let me just say that if I had been more sexually educated and if I knew I wasn't going to devastate our parents, I doubt we would have waited.

I am a bit new to this feminism thing (right? where the vagina have I been?), and was dubious to read this book, just because how in the world could it be a BAD thing to teach abstinence?  Well, Valenti answered that question both intelligently, vehemently, and perhaps most important - compassionately.

The people who need to read this the most are most likely still in a religion that would shame them, but it is my wish that they still might. This is a message the church needs to hear.

A good way to get a few bits of the VAST amount of facts, stats, and legislation Valenti exposes in this book is to read the back pages - quick facts about The Virginity Movement and to visit the website: http://www.thepuritymyth.com/.

My Application:
-I am working hard to demystify the notion that females who enjoy sex before marriage are considered sluts, whores, and dirty. Girls like sex, boys like sex. We are all human.

-I am working through the disgust and anger at movements that seek to remind women that they will be damaged by pre-marital sex, that sex in general is bad for females and will hurt them, and institutions that refuse to teach girls and women how to have a healthy sex life.  

-It's morally repugnant that almost ALL of the abstinence-movement's money (a lot!!) is spent only on programs for white middle and upper class females.  1 - NOT ON LOW-INCOME or OTHER RACES and 2- NOT ON MALES.  (After all, "boys will be boys.")

-If we perpetuate a society where women are the gate-keepers of sex and men have to be aggressors to get this precious and limited commodity, we will always have rape, incest, abuse, and pedophilia.  As Valenti says, there is a HUGE difference between not saying 'no' and actually saying 'yes.'

-Rape is still largely legislated in rapists favor. (Did you know that if a girl consents even once during the encounter, ANYTHING that happens subsequently - including her saying 'no' - cannot be considered rape!

-I am reminded that a woman's moral character cannot be based simply on saying 'no' as a passive agent.  Instead of teaching them to perpetually say no (which continues into marriage, I might add, and can lead to marital rape, since the boy was taught to wait until his wedding night and then 'anything goes.'  How is a  girl who is taught to keep men at bay suddenly to learn that sex is good, intended for her pleasure, and will not in any way damage her), they should be reminded that their worth has nothing to do with if they do or do not have sex.

-I am still unpacking the lie that men are more visually stimulated and females are more sensory.  This line of reasoning is used to perpetuate the blame of rape upon females (they had it coming, they shouldn't have been out drinking, they shouldn't have been walking alone, they shouldn't have been wearing such little clothing).  One of the most poignant stories she tells is that one female was raped at home wearing sweats and a t-shirt, and had also been out several times in short skirts and NOT been raped. The only way to be raped is to be in the presence of a rapist, and is in no way the responsibility of the female to keep men from looking at them.  Let's focus more on how to teach men NOT to rape.

-I am just waking up to the notion that women are still treated like they don't know what's  best for their sex lives and bodies, and need men to make decisions for them, and need their father's to protect their virginity (via daddy/daughter dances wherein the girl pledges her virginity to her father...um?)

-Women are being forced into a perpetual girlhood (read: not smart) where they are sexy only if they are young. There is legislation that prevents females from abortions by saying over and over again "This is murder. This is murder" - based on the notion that if only they knew what they were doing, they wouldn't do it.  Fine, have your opinion, but do not treat the female like she is stupid.  SHE KNOWS WHAT ABORTION DOES.

Such a fascinating, enlightening, and IMPORTANT read.  It took me a long time to get through because it made me so angry at times...which I know is a good thing. I'd love to discuss this with readers, since conversation is the entire goal.

A girl is not going to have less to offer her husband by having sex before he comes along.  That's just not how sex works.  I'm all for virginity, but only if it's an informed and free choice a woman makes.  I will never be behind choices born from shame and manipulation.



Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Listen, whatever it is you think about the "self-indulgence" of memoir, screw it.  Wild is at parts too easy to read and at other parts remarkably hard to read...both in all of the good ways.  More like a conversation with Strayed than a memoir, I read and read and read.

I purchased a copy of this at Cheryl Strayed's reading at Third Place Books in Seattle, Wa.  I couldn't wait to read it after hearing her speak and after having fallen hard for her advice column as Sugar - compiled in Tiny Beautiful Things.  It was an inspiring, easy-to-read, expertly woven memoir.  I was expecting a lot more emotional reflection, but Strayed always walks this remarkably hard to achieve bad-ass line of detail and reflection, of compassion and buck-up-ity.  She made me care, she was vulnerable and honest (which made me trust her, almost as if she were my own trail guide, gently reaching for my hand over snowy patches and casually whistling ahead on the trail during easy patches).

A great read.  While it won't go on my list of the most important books in literature, it will go on a list of the most important books to me.  Will recommend it to a lot of people going forward.




Our AndromedaOur Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I stumbled into the poetry of Shaugnessy via Cheryl Strayed's FB page, who recommended it. I gave my daughter the middle name 'Andromeda' so I am always interested when I see it chosen as a name for something else.  I wasn't prepared for the heart-break and beauty of her poetry, especially the title poem.  Though I hate to draw comparisons (namely because I hate it when people do that with my own writing), but I kept vibing Plath in her poems, seeing the flatness of blunt thoughts which are simultaneously pregnant with meaning - a meaning the reader is invited to read, but never given the key to fully understand.

I was impressed.



Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear SugarTiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is like the bible for non-bible readers. It breaks your heart, twists into the break, then stitches it up again one poignant truth at a time. Painfully clear, gorgeously sad, and wrought with the real and tangible hope of forgiveness of others and the becoming of self.

Favorite line:
"Though I would rather be sodomized by a pink lawn flamingo than vote Republican..."




The Dream of a Common LanguageThe Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A cornerstone for me now.  Must read.






View all my reviews



Happy New Year, bookworms and the people that love them



P.S. My exhortation to you:
If you are a reader at all and inclined to share recommendations, I would LOVE them in any capacity.  If you want to start keeping track of what you read and write a review (think of it as a reminder to your older self when you forget things), I strongly suggest doing so right after each book!  That way, if you want to do a year-end post like this, the reviews are already done - you just copy and paste.  Otherwise, it would be way too overwhelming.  You can do this on goodreads.com or your own record keeping.