Monday, November 24, 2014

The Big Psych-Up

This wasn't a terrible weekend.  It wasn't great, but it also wasn't disastrous.  On Saturday evening, I got to meet my best friend for our weekly coffee (or in my case, a skinny hot chocolate) while my husband took care of the Kiddo.  Yesterday was church AND spaghetti day, which always makes for a good combo.  And last night I finished Lolita and started on Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things.  That's a pretty good start to the week.  Also, most of my Thanksgiving dinner shopping is done (aside from picking up -- uncooked -- Tom Turkey on Wednesday morning at Whole Foods.)

So why am I just not feeling Thanksgiving yet this year?  Don't even get me started on Christmas decorations and music (with this one exception.)  Don't get me wrong.  I'm thankful.  I have a lot to be thankful for, but as far as the usual traditions go, I am all out of steam before I even start.  Usually, I am chomping at the bit to start cooking for Thursday.  This is my favorite holiday, and I look forward all year to cooking this one meal.  Admittedly, the Celiac diagnosis from nearly two years ago has taken some of the fun out of cooking and baking in general, and this carries over to holiday meals as well.  But we managed last year without any trouble.  Maybe some of it is my continued poor health.  It is discouraging, disheartening, and seemingly never-ending.

It's certainly not my little girl who is already chattering about turkey and mashed potatoes and the Macy's parade on tv and setting up the Christmas tree.  I'm hoping that her excitement will overwhelm me come Thursday and kick my ass into gear.  Tomorrow is their Thanksgiving feast at preschool, and Kiddo is so excited.  I wish I could be the proverbial (and mega-cliched) fly on the wall during that little shindig.  Wednesday evening we'll probably go to the Thanksgiving devotional at church, which is always good for getting me in the right frame of mind.  I'm sure I'll rally.

In the meantime, I have writing to do, housework to plow through, and reading to squeeze in between.  This brisk morning (not as brisk as it's been, but brisk nevertheless), I broke out the sherpa blanket, the shearling boots, and the British Breakfast tea (because Earl Gray just wasn't going to cut it.)  Now that I'm toasty warm from nose to toe, it's time to get down to work.  I've got editing to do and maybe even some straight up new material to write.  It's going to be a good morning.  Or at least a highly caffeinated one.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Soy un Perdedor

Want to feel like a real loser?  Watch the tutorial on your MacBook Air's new OSx, Yosemite.  If you're like me, you're using a fraction of all the powerful tools your MacBook offers.  It's like this awesome machine is wasted on me.  But hey, it looks pretty, and it's fast when I need to look up a word on, and that's what matters when you're a writer, yes?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reading Lolita in the US

So today is probably a good day to work on editing my most recent short story as it's set on a cold night, and it is FREEZING here this morning.  We keep the heat set very low in our house because of my breathing issues and our giant dog (who LOVES the cooler temps) and, let's be honest, the savings.  But now I can put my shivering and layering down to suffering for my art, like "The Method" for writers.  I feel so meta.

Speaking of meta, what could be more meta than reading a book about reading books?  A few weeks ago, I read the memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi.  (Yes, I know I'm seriously late to that party.  It came out in 2003.)  The book explores the plight of women (and in particular, academic women) in Iran.  I admit that it's a tough read for a feminist (or I'm hoping, for anyone.)  These women endure such violence and oppression just for lacking a Y chromosome.  Never mind that they are trying to get an education and learn something about the world outside their narrow existences.  Professor Nafisi writes about a secret book club/class that she taught for women she'd encountered before she was ousted from her university jobs for "subversive" behavior.

The memoir is made even more powerful by its structure. It is divided into sections named after the individual books they studied, western books that are forbidden in Iran.  Remembrances and commentary are interspersed between literary analysis in a construction that is so seamless as to be nearly invisible.  Because Nafisi is something of a Nabakov expert (she's written a book about him), much of her most passionate and detailed writing is in the "Lolita" chapter.  There are so many parallels between these women's experiences and those of the title character, and Nafisi seems to feel the resonance deeply.

Because I recently read this book (and another) that referenced Lolita heavily, I felt it was finally time to read this much maligned and praised novel.  I'd been warned many times that it is a difficult read, but I was undaunted.  It seemed like a big gap in my reading, and I was determined to fill it quickly.  So this weekend, I purchased Lolita (the 50th anniversary edition, not the annotated one which was really pricey.) I began it late Saturday night after finishing an admittedly frothy Amy Tan novel, so the transition was a little tricky.  Nevertheless, I'm plodding forward.

At first the most challenging part was all the French that the narrator uses.  (I knew I should have taken French and not Spanish in high school and college.)  Also there is the rather convoluted language that H.H. uses in his narration.  At least he admits it: "You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style."  So there is humor.  And the narrator is highly educated and well-read.  I was making progress.  Then I reached the point where H.H. encounters the titular character, and all bets were off.  I am still chipping away at his attempted seduction of the twelve year old.

First let me say, I get it.  I realize that this isn't a book about pedophilia.  I understand that Nabakov is making far bigger points here.  This doesn't make it any easier to read about a grown man drooling over a child.  And I haven't even gotten to the point where he does more than pine from a distance. I may need a drink or two to get through that part.

Of course, this is not the first time I've read a difficult book (difficult in terms of stomach-churning content.)  Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin was not an easy read, and getting through the last hundred pages was almost untenable.  But there's something so much more repellant about Nabakov's unreliable narrator.  Maybe it's the perversion.  But maybe, some of it is the self-delusion.  Self-delusion is frightening to anyone who is even remotely self-aware because we know we all do it but by very definition are not able to see it in ourselves.  What are any of us capable of doing, of justifying in our own minds?  Sure, it may not be assaulting a child (at least I hope that's a rarity), but it's something.  We're all capable of doing something truly terrible.  And perhaps that's the most stomach churning part of all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Trainwreck, or My Life as an Imperfect Writer

I've been playing catch-up the past few days after more than a week of illness knocked me out of commission.  One of my biggest frustrations when I deal with these setbacks, however, isn't the piled-up laundry or the grocery shopping that keeps getting postponed.  It's the fact that my writing schedule/discipline gets gutted every time.  In fact, it's as if I can't ever really develop a good schedule because every time I build the least bit of momentum, sickness takes me out again.  I miss the regular, disciplined writing of graduate school.  My writing feels stuck because I never write for enough consecutive days to get back in the swing of things.

Hence the return of my blogging.  I know I need to be sitting in front of my MacBook on a daily basis.  It doesn't matter if I make progress on my novel or most recent short story every single time I work.  I just need to keep writing.  It's the same advice every writer I admire gives.  Just keep writing.  Daily.  And for whatever reason, I am able to keep up with blogging without the massive procrastination that I usually employ (and yes, I know that writers are famous procrastinators.  I tell myself this frequently to at least try to arrest the shame spiral.)  So once I tap out my latest blog entry, I'm already in place for my writing and editing.  That's the strategy anyway.

My last blog ended with my completion of graduate school, so it's been a while since I've done this, though I've read tons of blogs in the interim.  I just wasn't sure what direction/content/etc. I would want for a new blog.  The world doesn't need another "mommy blog," and I certainly wasn't going to bring anything new to that party.  And as for my writing, well, I've been so sporadic that I felt like a fraud writing blog posts solely about that.  I read voraciously, but I didn't want to just do book reviews.  That's when I decided -- the blog was just like my other writing.  At this point, what I write is far less important than the fact that I'm writing.  Typing out words on a daily basis is what is going to bring everything back together (including my sanity.)

Ever since I completed my MFA, I feel like I've been putting limits on my writing -- limits to the point of paralysis.  I'm my own worst editor.  There are all these voices in my head: professors, fellow grad students, writers whose advice I've read, and it's been really difficult to drown them out and just type.  So I have given myself to permission to write badly (as I've been told to do repeatedly) in this blog.  Don't wait for the brilliantly witty and well-constructed post to come to you in a dream.  Just write it, check for typos, and get on with it.  Because life is too short for perfection.  Here's hoping for a week where I read and write more than ever before.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Just Trying to Help, or 7 Things You Shouldn't Say to the Chronically Ill

I have serious long-term health issues.  I have good days and bad days, but there are no days that the threat of illness doesn't loom in the corner of my mind.  There are multiple doctors in my phone contact list.  The people at my pharmacy pretty much know me by sight, and some days it seems like I swallow more pills than food.

The good news is that I am surrounded by supportive people who love me and who step in when I am unable to do the important stuff.  My husband, of course, bears the brunt of this burden, but we also have friends and family who help where they can with babysitting, food, or just a sympathetic ear.

All of that being said, it must be stated that all forms of assistance are not equal.  When you are chronically ill, many people (complete strangers included) feel that the best form of support they can offer is pummeling the ailing person with questions and unsolicited advice.  These people are rarely medical professionals.  Rather they are just somebody who heard something from their second cousin who used to be a nurse, or read half of an article on a holistic medicine site five years ago.

These people are well-meaning, but good intentions are not an excuse for bad behavior.  Do you know how the sick person feels in that situation?  They have been doing battle with their own bodies for years, and now someone with zero understanding of their condition (and absent of any medical training) is suggesting that if they just did a little more research and tried this thing they heard about they'd be all better.  In fact, you're just choosing to be sick because you haven't really exhausted all your options.

Please don't defend these people.  Much like when I was pregnant, people suddenly lose their filters when faced with my illness, and I can only presume they do it to others.  I don't offer information or details about my health.  They are generally pried from me with probing, invasive questions.  It doesn't matter what the questioner intends.  Chronically ill people hear unsolicited advice on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.  It is exhausting and insulting, and if you're guilty of this, please stop immediately.  But, just in case you're not sure if you're an offender, here is a list of things you should never say to a chronically ill person:

1.  "I know [      ] who has [    ]."
I get that people are trying to connect with you, but, seriously, why do I need this information?  Also related to this statement is... 

2.  "You should meet [    ].  They have [     ] too."
Because  nothing bonds people like sharing an auto-immune disorder in common.

3.  "I heard about this treatment on Dateline, the internet, etc.  Does that not work for you?"
Why yes, it would.  I was just too stupid to take it.  Now I'm saved!  Thanks!

4.  "Have you tried vitamins, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractor,  natural medicine?"
Actually, my doctor recommended all of those things, but I'm refusing to do them just to piss him off.  Plus I enjoy being sick.

5.  "I would lose my mind if I were sick all the time/had to give up gluten/couldn't exercise/had to take lots of medication.  I just couldn't do it."
I understand how hard that would be for you.  Fortunately, I'm having a blast, so don't worry about how you're pointing how badly my life sucks.  For me, it's just all fun, all the time.

6.  "I don't take prescription medication.  It's unnatural poison."
How lucky for you that you have that option.  

And last but certainly not least....

7.  "I have [     ] symptoms.  Do you think I have what you have?"
First of all, I don't profess medical proficiency like you, O helpful-advice-person, so I cannot diagnose you.  But yes, you probably have it.  Only worse.  Allow me to give you some advice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

First-Time Mom, Long-time Writer

It's been nearly five years since I had my little girl.  She was my first and will be my only.  It's been three-and-a-half years since I finished my MFA.  My thesis manuscript remains unfinished, and I've been working on the same short story for the better part of a year.  I'd like to say that I've just been too wrapped in the joys of motherhood to have time alone, just me and my MacBook.  But that would be a lie.  Kiddo goes to preschool four mornings a week, and next year will be kindergarten. I can only barely remember the person I was five years ago.  Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Having a child teaches you patience and priorities (and a relaxing of boundaries, a good lesson for me), and I love my little girl with my whole being.

But there is still a loss there. Nobody tells you about that.  There is so much focus on warning new parents about the time they'll lose, the sleep, the ability to remember why you walked upstairs.  Nobody tells you that in all the fulfillment of having a child there can be an emptiness as well.  Your identity changes, and you mourn that old self that disappeared the first time you had to step away from the computer to feed the baby or watch an insipid cartoon rather than the cerebral indie film.  Sure, that sounds selfish and shallow, but if a parent tells you they've never felt that way? They're lying.

My brain doesn't function the way it did before I had a child, the way it did when I started my MFA.  It doesn't even function the way it did when I first had a baby.  Raising a verbally precocious toddler is exhausting in a way I could never have imagined.  In theory, it would seem that I would run to the computer to write every time she slept or went to preschool, but the truth is that by then I often have nothing left.  Even on days when my sweet husband takes her school and I have four straight hours to work, I often find myself procrastinating.  Of course, writers are famous procrastinators, but I have taken the trait to new heights in the past few years.

There is more to this story.  I'm chronically ill, and the past two years have been a roller coaster ride (pardon the terrible cliche, told you I was out of practice) of new drugs, new diagnoses, and new symptoms.  Some days it's all I can do to drag myself out of bed and care for my child.

I've said all of this though not to complain or elicit sympathy.  I just want to give context to what I plan to write here.  It's been quite a few years since I last had a blog, and I decided that rather than try to revive my previous blog that was no longer a good fit for who I am, I would create a new one.  This is not a "mommy blog."  No offense to you mommy (or daddy) bloggers out there.  You're doing good work, and there are plenty of you whose writing I enjoy on a daily basis.  But I'm not that woman.  I'm not the mommy type.  I'm not a super-mom.  I never pureed my own baby food.  We don't do crafts unless they are incredibly simple and come with minutely detailed instructions.  But this is the mom that I am:

I love to read.
I love to read out loud to Kiddo.
I love bookstores and libraries and quiet restaurants and funky little holes in the wall places.
Most children's television programming and movies make we want to pound myself in the head with the remote.
I don't allow toys to "live" in the living room.
I can't whistle, and I've never been stung by a bee.
I avoid tight spaces, large groups, and reality television at all costs.
I'm a bit of a snob about what I read.
I'm a bit of a snob in general, though a mostly good-natured one.
Sometimes my poor health makes it difficult to enjoy parenting, and this is one of my greatest heartbreaks.
I love my Kiddo and sweet husband even more than books.  Really.