Dad Tunes

Remember life before digital music? It’s hard, right? I’m an mp3 hoarder (which already makes me old, sigh) and a Pandora addict, and I can’t tell you what it means to be able to google any song I want at any time so I can listen to it. No more having to wait for a song to come on the radio. No more listening to five CDs on shuffle in the car, until you know every word and want to tear your face off if you hear that one song again.

When I was teaching dance, until the very end (near 2008-ish?) I was limited by whatever CDs were in the room. I got really good at choreographing combinations for across the floor to Ace of Base and Gloria Estefan. If I hear Lawrence Welk’s “Begin the Beguine,” I lapse into tap class warm-up shuffles (7-7-3-3-1-2-2, anyone?). At home I had Sarah McLachlan on a loop for most of my junior and senior year so I could feel bad about my feelings to bad music.

But no music is as familiar to me as the stuff in my dad’s CD collection from about 1993-1997. I remember it was a thing for him, his stereo. He had a case of music and these giant, padded headphones with a spiraling cord, and he’d lay on the floor with his head propped against the couch and just listen with his eyes closed. I didn’t get it, but he assured me that was a dad thing to do, music. Listening. Tapping out the drum solo to “Wipeout” with your hands. Knowing about singers and whether someone was “a Beatles person” or a “Beach Boys person.”

The other day I heard Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home” on Pandora and I was instantly reminded of Dad’s CDs. Once I started searching for albums, I realized my musical influences are a study in eclectic tastes. (And, truthfully, that I remember the things best that were danceable. Anything I learned at the studio, I practiced in the living room.) I created a Pandora station for myself (Dad Music), but I thought it would be fun to post some samples here of the mid-90’s stuff the Scotts were hearing.

Highlights of Dad’s CD Collection
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Phil Collins: Serious Hits Live

I didn’t know what Genesis was until my 20s, but I did know all the words to “Sussudio.”

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The Best of the Doors

Honestly, I was kind of scared of the Doors, thanks mostly to the album cover and Jim Morrison’s prominent nipples. This one might have been a cassette tape–I can’t be sure–but I remember driving in my dad’s car as he tried to explain “Riders on the Storm.”
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Jim Brickman: By Heart

This was when I discovered I could work better to music without words. This became my homework soundtrack, and my sister danced a piece to “Angel Eyes” when we were in high school. I played it to death.

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The Big Chill: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Just one of many soundtracks that introduced us to oldies. I liked this one, though, and it got some major play time. I think Melissa and I choreographed a few dance numbers to it in the living room. “Good Lovin” is particularly right for a spontaneous dance party.

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Tony O’Connor: Rainforest Magic

What was the name of that nature store in the mall in the ’90s? I have spent two days trying to remember. I think that’s where this came from, and its sister albums that featured things like ocean sounds. I didn’t really take off in a pan flute direction in my life, but I used to borrow this one when I got my own CD player so I could fall asleep to it.

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Dirty Dancing: Original Soundtrack

Played loud and proud, all the time. I watched this movie 400 times and probably listened to the soundtrack just as much.

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Madonna: The Immaculate Collection

I was almost as scared of Madonna as I was of Jim Morrison’s nipples–for unclear reasons at the time–but she seemed like somebody “bad.” (And I was nothing if not hyper-concerned with goodness vs. badness in the world.) For this reason, I stuck close to the beginning of the album, and was fond of skipping around the house to “Holiday.”

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Jurassic Park: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Earliest exposure to John Williams. Jurassic Park album as gateway to other movie scores.

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The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack

Ridiculous and embarrassing: I choreographed my first dance to “The Queen of the Night.” I wore a blue and red sparkly crop top.

I know.

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Kenny G: Silhouette

We are so deep into embarrassing territory now. I will just leave Kenny G here without comment, except to say that I enjoyed his smooth version of curly-haired sax playing.

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The Glenn Miller Orchestra: In the Digital Mood

This is the soundtrack of my youth, the album my dad would play (loud) to signal that we were about to clean the house. I kind of dreaded it, but Glenn Miller is actually great housecleaning music. We’d clean until the album was done playing, and it was a happy thing to hear. To this day it puts me in a good mood.

It’s funny to think about how limited musical exposure used to be. My own kids have access to anything they can search. Someday I’ll have to teach them about laying on the floor with your eyes closed, and why it’s important to find joy in whatever songs you have.

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Saturday afternoon we had a house full of humans.

We threw a housewarming party, and road-tested the new digs. For the first time in our lives, we have a house big enough to party. A house big enough to hold our larger-than-average families. A house big enough to open.

I couldn’t sleep the night before because hello, of course I couldn’t, so even though the better part of last week was spent spending and shopping, and doing, I woke up at 3:00 AM to try to worry myself into a successful fête. I nudged Eric and told him I was too nervous about the party to sleep and he murmured mmm and promptly rolled over. I had made an Ina-worthy checklist the night before (complete with timetable, you guys) but I was still consumed by my trademark middle of the night anxiety. So I did what any good HSP does, and I got out of bed at 4:00 AM to start cooking.

Actually, nobody tells you this (bakers, maybe?) but 4:00 AM is a nice time to cook. It’s super quiet and nobody is trying to steal anything you make, and you can cook in your PJs without anyone’s judgy eyes on you. I flipped on Downton Abbey and Mrs. Patmore kept me company while I chopped brussels sprouts and dipped things in chocolate. Not for the same dish, no.

I felt a lot of pressure to entertain well–I always do–I come from a line of warm hosts and hostesses, of people who know how to put some cheeses on a plate and make you feel welcome AF. So I had convinced myself I needed to get this right. All week as I was shopping and cleaning and planning, I found myself wondering what my parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents would do, and when it came time to answer the door, I was happy with how that strategy served me. I don’t have it down, yet, but I learned from the best.

I prepped everything I could (which took me until about 8:30 or 9, who can remember?), showered, ran to JoAnn Fabric one more time because I CAN’T PARTY WITHOUT WASHI TAPE FOR LITTLE TOOTHPICK APPETIZER SIGNS, and was home in time to style the craft project that lives on top of my head. Side note: I gave up on dressing/styling myself for school back in about September, when the house crap hit the fan, and that added an extra level of difficulty/awkwardness to Saturday’s dressing, hair curling, and heel-wearing. All was well, but my current girl game is weak. Perhaps I will continue to dress like a male PE coach for the remainder of the year and then style myself like a lady again for the fall of 2016.

Anyway. The party was a smash, and not because of anything I did–it was wonderful because my husband worked his tail off getting the constructiony things done, and I had help doing the kitcheny stuff, and my house was filled with love and friends and people who like us. People who were like damn, that was kind of an ordeal getting into this place, you guys, but hey why don’t you walk me around and point at your rooms? We had neighbors come by, old friends, new friends, family, and friends who are like family. Just the best mix of people.

By 7:30 PM my eyes were too tired to read, and I fell asleep at 8:00 without remembering to eat any dinner.

Sunday I just floated around on my cloud of clichés. I am lucky as all get out to have such a beautiful family, lucky to know so many wonderful people, lucky to have a home to bring everyone together. This feels like our grown-up house, like the space where we get to grow into the life we wanted at 19 (before we had any kind of clue how to get it).

This Was Halloween

Late post. Addie has been sick since Sunday, and we’re just now coming up for air.

Untitled Before you ask: Addie was Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Henry was Pizza Steve from Uncle Grandpa.
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I’m not sure how many Halloweens we have left where she will want to dress up. Although, it’s different now. I remember thinking in 8th grade that it wasn’t cool to wear a costume. I think costumes have become much more of a thing. (That, and I am sure that my hyper-sensitivity meant I thought this was not cool because I didn’t think anything was cool.) Addie is already light years ahead of me.

We started the evening off the way we start all Halloweens. We drove over to my grandparents’ house to do a test Trick-or-Treat and our standard photo in front of the fireplace. UntitledUntitledAfter that, we went home. I spent my first Halloween as a mom (yes, the first one in 13 years) staying home to pass out candy. The cousins, aunts and uncles (from both sides) joined us, and they went with Eric out to trick or treat.
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I’m not a Halloween person, but this was the best one I can remember in recent history. It was fun to have all the kids together, and fun that my kids and my sister’s kids are big enough to really go and go and go on Halloween.

We had a great time and life didn’t get real scary until Addie started throwing up on Sunday…

Couch Love, House Love

UntitledEric’s recliner, which was a pretty good compromise. Shout-out to Kitty’s folding table, which is holding a spot for a forthcoming new table in the kitchen.

Weird how new couches are making our space feel more like a home. But I suppose that makes sense. Now that we can use our space (our old sectional didn’t fit in the family room), we are beginning to hang out downstairs, rather than heading up to our respective rooms after dinner. We also put a small loveseat in my office, but I haven’t gotten to sit there much, because the cats are taking turns playing “No, I’m the bigger bitch” and stealing the seat from each other.

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Cookie lyin’

That’s cool, I guess. It gives me something to watch while I work.

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And by work, I mean wait for my computer to finish updating. It started at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, and it’s still struggling to finish.

This week has been all about bringing veggies back (into my meals) and trying to consistently get up before 5:00 AM. Insane, I know, but that’s the only way I’m going to get any work or exercise done. It has to be outside of the normal day.

Our house feels more like our home every minute, and I am insanely grateful that everything actually worked out. Yesterday when Henry and I got home from school, he sat on the swing with his book and waited for me to get the mail. As we waked up to the house together, I told him it still didn’t feel like ours from the outside, even though I’m used to the inside now. But I’ll take it, you know?

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Yes to all this.

Lynx/Links

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There’s a lynx, and here are some links:

Trouble sleeping? The Paris Review is here to help, with Sleep Aids, literature that’s so dry it will help you nod off. This week’s installment: Cold Storage, Heating and Ventilation on Board Ship.

Weeks after reading this beautiful piece, I’m still thinking about it. Author Chimamanda Adichie writes for The Atlantic about his Nigerian Catholic upbringing, and how Pope Francis has changed his view of the church.

[G]old pendants at women’s throats, their headscarves flared out like the wings of giant butterflies; men’s caftans crisply starched; children in frilly socks and uncomfortable clothes. Mass was as much social as spiritual—an occasion to greet and gossip, to see and be seen, and to leave consoled. I loved watching the priests sweep past, all certainty and majestic robes, behind the sober Mass-servers holding candles. The choir sang in Igbo and English, each song a little plot of joy. I loved the smoky smells, the standing and sitting and kneeling, the shiny metal chalice raised high in air charged with magic and ringing bells. The words of the liturgy were poetry.

Adichie’s article reminded me of this Dan Savage episode of This American Life, when he talks about going back to church to feel closer to his mother, despite his own atheism.

Why we are burning out in the arts speaks as much to my soul as a dancer as a writer. “[P]eople tend to live quite precariously in the arts and can burn out”–yep. The hardest thing about being a writer is staying hungry. And not the kind that’s about eating enough. Staying hungry enough for the next job, while working on something that’s not going to pay a lot.

My friend, Dorothy Rice, writes about finding her genre.

English novelist and critic Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941), 1902. (Photo by George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

How do author photos change the way we read? Dustin Illingsworth asks the question at Lit Hub.

This piece by George Saunders for The New Yorker about his writing teachers is just fabulous. Worth a read for anyone who has ever had a gifted teacher in his or her life.

Why do we love our writing teachers so much? Why, years later, do we think of them with such gratitude? I think it’s because they come along when we need them most, when we are young and vulnerable and are tentatively approaching this craft that our culture doesn’t have much respect for, but which we are beginning to love. They have so much power. They could mock us, disregard us, use us to prop themselves up. But our teachers, if they are good, instead do something almost holy, which we never forget: they take us seriously. They accept us as new members of the guild. They tolerate the under-wonderful stories we write, the dopy things we say, our shaky-legged aesthetic theories, our posturing, because they have been there themselves.

I’m trying not to think about lunchmeat giving people cancer. But in the meantime, here’s a good article about the fast food industry in America, and how that’s changing.

People are reading less in general, but ladies are over-compensating.

Finally, two wonderful op-eds from The New York Times: Lady Gaga and The Life of Passion, and Lecture Me, Really.

Waiting Room

Since my surgery in June, I’ve been waiting. Waiting for every single thing. I thought for sure there would be a day when I’d know I was better, a day when I would be sure that all of the healing was finished and I was ready to resume my normal activities. The “right” day to run again. Or try yoga. Or get back on my bike… or, I don’t know… stand up for more than a few hours without getting a sore stomach.

That hasn’t happened. A day never came where I was like, oh, this is the day I’m so glad I had that surgery, because I feel amazing! Goodbye, uterus! This will not come as a surprise to anyone, but this is just one of the many times I was wrong about a finish line, a perfect moment in life when I would be happy because I’d have made it through something. Life keeps going, and there’s no perfect day–no moment of realization that it’s the right time to do anything, or the right time to be happy, or be “normal” or be anything other than what is happening that day. Still, I was hoping.

I really wanted a day where I was like yes, today, let’s run five miles again. Yes, let’s pick up that box of cat litter at Costco! Yes, let’s stand up and be a teacher all day. I am FINE!

That’s dumb, right?

This week, I’m sick of waiting. It’s time for me to start acting like myself again even if I don’t feel strong enough. (The doctor called Saturday–all clear and all good–it is taking me a long time to heal/scar properly, but there’s nothing bad happening in there. No cause for worry.) And now that I know I’m technically fine, I’m just a late-blooming, delicate friggin’ flower whose body doesn’t want to scar up efficiently, I am done pretending I need to wait.

One of my favorite things I’ve ever seen on the internet is this:

I can’t do this, but I’m doing it anyway.

Let’s embrace that, huh?

I think part of why I don’t feel like myself is that I am not active right now at all.  I was moving much more and much more quickly after both c-sections. So even though my marathon days are done, I was a generally active person, pre-surgery. At least I was outside a lot. I miss moving and exercise and going out into the world. And I think since I’ve been sedentary, my core is weak and that makes me feel even more like I shouldn’t do anything.

Vicious cycle.

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Couch potato pal.

So I did something. Yesterday I took my plan for a test drive and hit the gym before work. I did the world’s slowest old lady mile on the treadmill, and then I lifted the smallest amount of weight possible. But I felt good. I felt like me.

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Taking the world by storm, 17 minutes and 38 seconds at a time.

But what should I read?

The number one email I get from friends and family members:

Hey, I know you read a lot. Do you have any book recommendations? I want to read something new, but I don’t have any ideas. I want something good… and not too weird.

So here are some things you could read. I am putting this here for myself as much as for the next few people who are curious about books. I can’t usually remember titles on the spot.

But know this: The more I read for reviews, the less I care about the labels good or bad. Those don’t have as much meaning to me anymore, and I’ll happily spend time with a book that’s outside of my own comfort zone because I’m interested in finding out who the right person is for that book. (Which is, my reading strategy, and probably should be the topic of another post.)

Also, a lot of what I read is weird. Part of that is by design–I like to read and review books from indie or small publishers, and often what gets published by those smaller places is content that’s not mainstream. So I know many of my reviews don’t appeal to a wide audience because those books wouldn’t (and those books are still valuable). But here’s an attempt to round up some recommendations for the masses. These are things I think most people would like, grouped by (sort of) their genre. Their HSP genre, that is… how I would describe them to you over a glass of wine and some delicious cheese.

An imperfect list in no particular order (with apologies to any book I forgot):

Weird, But Not Too Weird

So you want to read something outside the norm? Something artsy or dark? Something that will challenge your worldview a little? These books were so weirdly beautiful/tragic that I was completely drawn to them. All different subjects, all great writing, and all kind of bizarre.

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A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell is a darkly comic book about three sisters trying to outlive a family curse. They descended from a Jewish chemist who invented Zyklon (a fictionalized Fritz Haber), and they spend their entire lives trying to pull together while dealing with a troubled family line. I reviewed it for the LA Times here.

Binary Star is a sad but alluring book by Sarah Gerard. I reviewed this one hereBinary Star is told from the point of view of a damaged anorexic on a cross-country journey with her (also) dysfunctional husband. Fun, right? I promise it’s good. Gerard’s language is beautiful and her characters see the world in terms of celestial bodies. It’s an amazing book.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is and end-of-the-world tale about a traveling band of musicians who roam around playing music and putting on Shakespeare’s plays for small towns in a post-apocalyptic America. A few of the characters are old enough to remember life before the event that took out most of the world’s population, and over the course of their journey they begin to solve a mystery from before things went south.

Tender Data by Monica McClure is a book of poetry. I reviewed it here for Electric Literature. McClure gets into issues of femininity and puts her speakers in direct confrontation with the world. It’s raw and sometimes messy, but the language is beautiful and you will be captivated by McClure’s honesty.

Stuff that Really Happened

There’s only one history writer for me, and it’s because I am totally, completely, hopelessly biased. Since I got to interview him last year, I’ve been blabbing to anyone who will listen about “best friend and National Treasure” David McCullough. But he can sure pen a historical tome. I promise I’ll get around to Doris Kearns Goodwin one day, but here are some recommendations of books I’ve read by BF/NTDM in the meantime. They won’t disappoint.

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John Adams, The Wright Brothers, and The Greater Journey all by David McCullough, all phenomenally rocking my socks.

What’s Happening Now

This is a book that provoked really strong feelings in me, which is why I think it’s important to read. As an educator in America, I really found it both moving and challenging. Coates doesn’t pull any punches.

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Based on Stuff That Really Happened

I’ve mentioned both of these books before, but (apparently?) I know a lot of people who are into historical fiction, so I will keep recommending them. Excellently researched and evocative works based on real women’s lives.

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Mary Coin by Marisa Silver is based on the life of Florence Owens Thompson, the woman in the “Migrant Mother” photograph by Dorothea Lange. Silver writes in alternating perspectives of the photographer and the subject.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt tells a fictionalized story of a woman who dresses up like a man to fight in the Civil War (to spare her husband, who is too weak to fight). This really happened, and Hunt’s flair for the detail and language of the time bring his characters to life in an enjoyable, complex story.

When did we agree to call it Cali?

I have a bit of an obsession with books about California, something I can trace directly to the summer I spent reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Ever since, I’ve been captivated by authors who write California well, and these do:

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Sidewalking by David Ulin is nonfiction, a collection of essays about walking in LA. I interviewed Ulin here, and I loved this meandering book.

Valley Fever by Katherine Taylor is a gorgeous love letter to the Fresno Valley. I reviewed this book for LARB, and I am still so smitten with Taylor’s lush descriptions of fruit trees, wide open spaces, and grapevines. Fresno book? Yes please.

The Beautiful Unseen by Kyle Boelte is a small book about fog in San Francisco, and the author dealing with his brother’s suicide. It’s quiet, calm, and spellbinding. If you’ve ever sat on the beach and watched the fog consume the hills of the city, you will love this book. It haunted me.

Short on Time? Read in chunks.

I didn’t like short stories until grad school. In fact, other than whatever I was assigned at UC Davis as an undergrad, and whatever I prepped to teach, I hadn’t read a whole lot of short stories. But something happened when I started to read a lot of short story collections for reviews and my thesis in my last year of grad school–I fell in love. I really like short stories now, and I’m better at knowing how I should read them–I can’t sit down and devour them all at once like a novel. So here are some great things I’ve read in the last few years, and these are all good for picking up, putting down, and picking up again. They’ll transport you.

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The Color Master by Aimee Bender was the first book review I ever published. But it’s a wonderful book, and I had no trouble writing about how much I loved Bender’s work. A joyful, strange read.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin is a more recent read, and Berlin’s stories walk an amazing line between ordinary and macabre. Her protagonists write of real life without ever becoming self-indulgent. She gets to the heart of human emotion without ever sentimentalizing. She was a master of characterization in just a few words. I reviewed Cleaning Women for Las Vegas Weekly here, and I had trouble keeping my words short.

Gutshot by Amelia Gray is raw. Violent. Mysterious. And I loved it. Gray’s mind is dark and I couldn’t put these weird stories down. I reviewed this one for Ploughshares.

Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman isn’t too recent, but it bears mentioning because I love it so much. I read this one in grad school just before the author came to guest lecture. These are tragic, magical stories filled with love and awe.

Stories about Complicated Ladies

I don’t know what else to call these books. But they’re the kind of thing you can lose yourself in over a period of days, or use to transport yourself to another world of friendships, affairs, betrayal, and a whole host of issues about what it’s like to be a smart lady with all the feelings. I loved both of these, and they’re completely different from each other.

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My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is probably the book you’ve been overhearing your friends talk about. Go read it. It is the first of four books by Ferrante (a pen name, which somehow adds to the draw) about two friends in post-WWII Italy. I’m on the second one and it’s just as good. MBF follows the women through their girlhood and adolescence. It’s great.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum was the “it” book earlier this year. (It was touted as 50 Shades for the literary crowd). Jill was my poetry professor at UCR, but I promise you my fandom would be just as maniacal if I didn’t know her. This book felt like a rare treat–each sentence is beautifully constructed, and it’s a multi-layered story about a dangerous woman. Loved it.

What I’d Recommend to My Students

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I read Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet for a review at The LA Times, and I was really struck by how much this book carried a message that my AVID kids need to hear. It’s about a first-generation college student who doesn’t know how to handle college once she gets there. I would put it in any of my students’ hands in a heartbeat (and have already done so a couple of times).

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud is the kind of book I’d recommend to my former AP kids. For some reason, Camus’ The Stranger really strikes a chord with a few students each year. Daoud’s masterful telling of the story from the perspective of the unnamed Arab’s (invented) brother is stunning.

Books Where Stuff Happens

A large portion of the conversations I have with my students about books have something to do with helping them find books “where things happen.” Many of them are impatient and don’t want to trudge slowly through a dry historical narrative to get to the good parts. If you’re looking for books where there is a lot going on all at once (and right away), these are some pretty good bets.

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Everyone and their mom has already read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. You might as well join the club. My sense is that you’ll either love it or hate it. (My two favorite emotions to have about a book!) I dug this book (and I stand by my review, even though I’ve talked to so many people who hated it). I think it’s a creative take on a crime novel. The main character doesn’t know if she did it.

All This Life by Joshua Mohr was a book I also reviewed, and it is one of the best constructed books I’ve read in a long time. Mohr weaves together the stories of many different people in San Francisco in this tale that examines how technology links us together–sometimes inextricably.

Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg is another book where action takes center stage. Tod was my thesis advisor at UCR, and this book from last year shows what he does well–characters with complex inner narratives, often struggling to move forward in life. In this case, though, the guy struggling to move on is a criminal posing as a rabbi. It’s a fun book, and the main character’s deeper spiritual questions keep the work from being cliche. A fun read, but also thought-provoking.

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And there you go. Does that give you someplace to start? If you need more, you can find me over at Goodreads.

Hemnes, Schmemnes.

After I went to Bacon & Butter on Sunday, and after I took my first of what I hope will be many neighborhood walks with Kitty, Eric decided we were going to Ikea. I didn’t know he even had an interest in Ikea, but I jumped at the chance to go.

Before someone mentions how cheap Ikea furniture is, how sub-par, lemme interject. I know it’s not what you’re going to call “real” furniture. But it’s not awful looking, and I need a coffee table that I can put my feet on and then sell at a garage sale when I get sick of it. I need some bookshelves, man. So we’re going to have cheap furniture in between our “real” furniture and we’re all going to be okay. I’ll leave you to your lathe–we’ll agree to disagree.

Anyway. I’d been making an Ikea list for weeks, so when Eric announced he wanted to go I changed into my comfy shoes and hopped in the car. There’s been so much to buy in the first few weeks of this new house. I am uber-thankful for that weird month between mortgage payments when you buy/sell a house, but we’re nearing the end of that beautiful time and that beautiful (spendable, extra) income. I am going to get myself to Ikea to buy some canisters, $2 toilet brushes, and step stools, dammit, because next month we have to pay the man.

I was kind of tired when we left, and I also didn’t think about it how thorough Eric can be. It’s one of the things I love about him–he is meticulous as all get-out, and as such, he proofreads every single review I write before I send it to an editor. But homeboy’s thoroughness really begins to shine in a museum or box store. He’s not going to miss a single thing. We are going to see the entire place, which means we are going to walk every single aisle and look at every single tag/blurb/display/sign.

So we did that. My body started to give out near the bed frames, and by housewares I was looking for empty end-caps to grab a sneaky sit.

Despite my tiredness, It was fun, and I’m happy that all of this house doing and shopping means the two of us get to spend time together looking at house stuff in a way we really haven’t since before Addie. It’s fun to have a new, empty house that we can fill up with dreams*.

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*and stuff that gets assembled with an Allen wrench.

Currently.

Reading The Story of a New Name (Neapolitan Novel #2) by Elena Ferrante–as an audiobook–while I drive around in my car. I blasted through the first one in the series, My Brilliant Friend, once I started it, and I couldn’t wait a single minute to start the next one. Here’s to reading a series after it’s already published, so I don’t have to wait. Ever.

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I also just unpacked War and Peace, so I can get back to my not-just-for-summer-anymore project reading that big ass book. I was enjoying it quite a bit before we started the move, so I’m looking forward to getting back into it again. My rules for War and Peace Project? Go slow. Feel free to get confused. Underline things. Reference online character guides whenever necessary. Call your best friend/former history teacher when you need help with Russia/France/Napoleon. I’m sure it will take me a long time to get through it, so you’re going to be hearing about W&P for a while, peeps.

Watching Justified every night with Eric. He’s been trying to get me to watch it for years, and I tried once before but a few random moments of violence put me off. Well, I gave it another shot, and I’m hooked. It’s hokey, and like Sons of Anarchy, it’s a total dude show. But it’s fluffy enough that I can play games on my phone and follow along, and it doesn’t give me nightmares or make me want to barf. So far the female characters are not written with a whole lot of complexity, which is not super. But Timothy Olyphant.

Other than that, I am just celebrating the crap out of the fact that we have satellite TV once more. During our month between houses, we gave up regular TV, and I failed the experiment miserably. I was not a nice person. I love TV. I need TV to be there for me. I need to tune in to Chopped when I’m bored or get sucked into a marathon of Naked and Afraid. So as you can imagine, there’s been a lot of Bravo happening since the reinstatement of my satellite privileges.

Eating pretty much all of the Halloween candy that I bought for Halloween. Whoops.

Drinking all the La Croix. Pamplemousse and Lime, specifically. Sugar-free to balance out the candy, duh.

Listening to all of the 90s music that I should have listened to in the 90s but wasn’t cool enough to know about. I love Chris Cornell (lead singer of Soundgarden), and for years I’ve listened to all of his music (solo, with various bands) with and because of Eric. All of the sudden my Chris Cornell Pandora station is introducing me to so many other bands and I’m like oh, this is what everyone knew about in high school when I just I listened to the same Sarah McLachlan and Cranberries CDs on repeat every day. So that’s fun.

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Teaching Beowulf to high school kids for the first time in my career, and geeking out over it. There’s nothing better than sharing this story I love, and it was very cool to show them a picture of the manuscript in the British Library and talk about being there. You know I got a kick out of making them say “hwæt” too.

Wondering If my health is going to get better soon. And trying not to assign any meaning to how long it’s taking me to heal, because it doesn’t have to mean anything. Since I’m me, it’s hard not to overthink it. I’m just trying to accept this as what it is, and keep moving through it and keep doing my best in each day to take it easy.

Dreading Halloween. I just don’t love Halloween. I don’t really know why. It’s not my jam. Maybe because I’ve decided I’m pretty much done being out of my bed/house after it gets dark? That would also explain my ambivalent feelings about July 4th.

Looking forward to Thanksgiving Break. Pie, being home for a whole week, pie, naps, and more pie.

Bacon, Butter & Good Intentions

Welp. I was feeling all kinds of positivity when I wrote that post on Sunday night, and Monday went to hell.

I spent all day yesterday dealing with post-hysterectomy body drama (if you’re counting, I’m 4+ months out and things are not better). I went to the doctor just to get checked out because I am still in pain had a feeling something was off, and I ended up having to have a friend come get me because they needed to do a biopsy which almost made me puke/pass out on the table. Ta-da! I’m good and it’s probably just a weird/slow healing thing, but spending the last two days in my bed (again) on pain meds (again) is boring (again) and I’m not really taking fall by storm.

Anyway. This is giving me a chance to fall deeply once more into my Plants vs Zombies addiction and to finish what Eric seems to think is my 4th rewatch of Downton Abbey. I haven’t done a single productive thing. But you guys, I am going to be the most prepared for the final season series, and I have to do this by making sure I have all of the Dowager Countess’ quips at the forefront of my mind. “Any port in a storm.” Am I right?

UntitledThe cats ignored me all day yesterday, so today I am forcing them to acknowledge me because locked them out of all of the other rooms in the house. They’ll have to see me, at least. In Cookie’s case, it’s only to plan how she will cut my throat as I sleep, but I’ll take it.

It isn’t super comfortable to go up and down the stairs, so I went down about a half hour ago and carried everything up that I might need in the next six hours. Yes, food. Yes, books. Yes, candy.

I did do something fabulous on Sunday morning, though, and since I’m a blog photo thief, I have a evidence. Cely of Running Off the Reese’s moved to Sacramento recently. I have been reading her blog for years and wishing she didn’t live in Texas. Somehow this really happened. Since I am only able to make friends when I can interact with them online before actually interacting with them in real life (see: my entire grad school experience, the complete extent of my friendships in the literary world), this worked perfectly. On Sunday I met up with Cely, her sister Sari, and my local (also a former blogger) friend Tracy at Bacon and Butter and I happily died a death by grilled cheese eggs benedict. Everyone was lovely and I can’t wait to do it again.

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I am going to make an effort to keep the TV off and the ipad out of my hands until I get some reading and writing done today. I have no excuse to leave this bed full of candy and cats. I’m starting Sarah Einstein’s memoir, Mot, today, and that should keep me busy. Right?

Dog Friend and October Things

I am happy as a clam, but I’m nowhere near as happy as Hurley, who has made it his personal mission to follow me around the new house. I suppose this isn’t too different from how he had to be near me in the old house, except the old house was so small that he didn’t have to get up. There are so many new dog places in the new digs. He’s been busy trying to never be more than two feet away from Mom.

The house is good. It doesn’t feel like ours yet, but I’m not complaining. I think this is due to two things: 1) it’s not in my head yet that we deserve something so nice. Yeah, I know that we are paying the mortgage, so I am not being completely ignorant about how it works to qualify for or pay a home loan. But space is so NICE. After you tell yourself for years that where you are and what you have is good enough, I think it just takes a while to adjust.

2) All of our stuff has a place to go. I have never experienced this in my married life, and since my married life is basically the history of my entire adult life, I have never experienced this in my entire adult life. No, all of our stuff is not here. But most of our regular day-to-day stuff is, and it fits in the cabinets. I can tell you that that was something I never imagined happening. Not because we had a crapload of stuff (I think we do okay, Marie Kondo-wise), but because the storage in our previous homes was just so teensy. Eric’s favorite room in the house is the giant pantry under the stairs, and I totally get it. When you can have your extra AppleJacks and your extra TP in the house, you are livin’ right. Thanks, Master’s degree!

UntitledUntitledUntitledUntitledUntitledUntitledDon’t go all OCD on me. Those TV wires are going in the wall, stat.

School is good. October is here and busy as ever with Homecomings and ordinary school doings, but that’s when I’m happiest. Everyone always has something to do, which means there’s less attention on everyone being new and having to prove how awesome they are. And if I manage my work (paper) load wisely,  by October it doesn’t get so out of control that I need to take days off so I can grade. My kids (students) get it–well, I hope, at this point–they get me and they get what The Mrs. Partington show is and is not going to be. It’s routine time, and I thrive on routine time. The monkeys are wrapping up swimming (shh… I can’t wait for a break from sports!) and even though I pretty much hate fall, I am ready for some time inside my new house under 25 blankets.

I haven’t done anything extraordinary lately in terms of reviewing, but I do find that having an office feels like an extravagance. It’s a luxury to leave my stuff out on my desk and to know I can walk in and sit down in a quiet room whenever I need to read or write. I’d been having a rough stretch while we moved from house to house, and now that we’re settled I feel like myself. Reviewing comes with occasional waves of self-doubt and frustration, and I (fingers crossed) think I’m heading out of a bad one. It helps that I have been reading good books–I’ve been excited to work through them on the page. I hope now that I am back working every morning again and since I have a place to “go” to work I can also get back to some serious pitching and planning. It should surprise absolutely nobody that I work better when I have a place and a plan.

So that’s October. I just read Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly yesterday because I was having a bout of surgery-related pain (I know, still?) and I decided the cure was a long day in bed with a self-helpish book. I was inspired by everything Brown had to say, but particularly what she says about how we live in a culture that perpetuates the idea of scarcity. (I am not enough, I do not do enough, I’ll never be enough, I’ll never have enough… those tapes we play in our heads.) She says the antidote to the kind of misery and the shame that comes from that kind of thinking (the kind of thing that’s guaranteed to ruin any moment because we’re already thinking about how it can go wrong) is gratitude. Duh. But I mean, she’s right, and it didn’t hurt me to read it. (Brown’s TED talk is pretty good if you’re not the readin’ type.)

Anyhoo. I’m feeling thankful today, and I have so many reasons to be.

Waiting is the Worst

One more day of living out of a suitcase. One more day of not living in our own house. One more day of sharing one sink and one bathroom. One more day until I can UNPACK MY COFFEE MAKER.

Eric says I’m like the cats: if you move my stuff around too much it makes me weird. He’s right.

Real quick: what the hell was I thinking when I put my coffee maker in storage? Okay. We did think we were only going to be living in the temporary house for two weeks–which turned out to be a false assumption–but I seriously underestimated my need for brewed beans. Sure, I said, I can drink instant for a few weeks. Nope nope nope.

Also, why didn’t I realize until a few days ago that I could have just used a French Press while we were here? We have water. I am a moron.

I couldn’t sleep last night. Not that I’ve been sleeping that well in the temporary house anyway (shout out to my Uncle Tom, who I know loves to read about how tired I am…), but I can’t seem to settle even though we’re in our own bed. I hate ceiling fans, and I still miss ours like crazy. The temperature is wrong all the time. Too many things on my mind–a mix of excitement about moving in and fear that this really isn’t going to happen. Where I go, in the wee hours: Maybe I made up the whole house thing, and I’m going to find this all was some kind of mistake, rather than a multi-month, labor- and thought-intensive, expensive process that involved me signing my name on a stack of papers as thick as War and Peace. But then, we don’t have our old home anymore. In the middle of the night it seems possible that we could have left that house and we’d never get this new one and we’d be stuck in uncertain limbo. Cats, frozen between rearranged couches.

This move has to happen this weekend. It has to.

The kids are good. They’re so excited that I really do hope we get to move in. They need a win, at this point. The ins and outs of real estate escape them; all they know is we’ve been saying “not yet” a lot. I’m ready for them each to have their own rooms again and to have some free time to go outside and explore the creek and parks around the new house. I’m glad they get along, but we’ve all been spending too much time in each other’s bubbles.

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September birthday buds.

Last night for dinner, I cracked crab with two friends who’ve been in my life for 20+ years. It was so much fun. We drank beer and ate cupcakes and just didn’t do anything productive. As I drove home I realized there hasn’t been a lot of fun happening lately, and I really miss it. I’m such a nerdmobile, I almost cried. I was so happy (and tired, natch). Other than a few bright moments when relatives have rescued us, it’s been a long couple of months. In fact, pretty much since my surgery I’ve been holed up in the house or out getting shit done. Not a lot of hanging out or drinking beer with other humans. My body is finally — 4 months after surgery — feeling and acting like my body and finally not hurting. I am thinking it might be nice to join civilization again. Not jury duty civilization, or work civilization, or the driving-kids-back-and-forth-across town civilization, because that’s been happening. But fun. Maybe I could have a conversation with my husband that doesn’t involve a sewer line or a moving truck, and maybe I don’t need to feel guilty about taking two whole hours to eat dinner.

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Sweet baby Jesus, I can’t wait to have a real cup of coffee in my new kitchen.

Teach Something Besides English

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Don’t become an English teacher. Ever. And if you do, don’t choose to also be a writer, because that’s like living in the week before finals with three essays due tomorrow for the rest of your life. You don’t want a stack of papers like this one staring you down all weekend when you need to finish reading a book. And I did it to myself. I have nobody to blame for that stack of writing next to the pumpkin. This is my job for the next 30ish years and it’s never going to not be like this.

Anyway, an update, because I’m avoiding that stack. I haven’t wanted to write much since we were in the throes of a real estate deal that was trouble every step of the way, and I was afraid I would somehow accidentally blow it by saying something wrong. But the house is ours now (in name, at least), and (I realize I am tempting fate by writing this down–) we should get to move in next Saturday when the sellers’ rent-back ends. I am just going with blind faith at this point; I have no actual evidence that this will happen, and based on how everything else has gone, I’d be a fool to count on it. But thinking that it might not happen isn’t going to do much for me except keep me awake at night, and I’ve maxed out my anxiety allowance. The good news is that the house is technically ours, we just don’t live in it yet. So you can decide for yourself how thrilled I should be about that, but I will say September 19 looks a whole lot better than September 5.

So, here’s what happened. We got an offer on our house and they wanted a short escrow. We jumped at it because it was a cash offer and we were contingent on our offer at the other house. We got out of the house in two weeks, and we moved into my grandma’s halfplex which she is not currently using, and where she (and my dad and his siblings) are generously allowing us to stay. Phew. But all things plumbing-related went haywire as soon as we moved in, and when Eric went to fix them, they fell apart in his hands. Within a few days, the sewer line backed up and couldn’t be repaired. So that became a thing.

I’ve been hesitant to write about anything–house, school, health–because there’s a fine line between saying what’s happening if it’s not good, and complaining. We are completely dependent on others right now for a place to live until our house is available, and I am not ungrateful or unappreciative of all the help that’s being given to us. And there are so many people in the world and even in my town who don’t have a secure place to live for a much longer term than this. But the honest truth is that things have been hard. Really damn hard.

When school starts, it always takes a month or two for me to find a groove with my new students–to learn their needs, to figure out their personalities, to adapt my curriculum for whatever new thing I’m teaching. And that’s a normal year when I don’t have a week of jury duty, hysterectomy pain, and no home. At 12 weeks out from my surgery, I was still bleeding and having pain, I couldn’t stand up for a full day yet, our sewer line was spraying the front lawn with disgusting things, and I wasn’t certain that the sale of our house was going to go through (after we’d already left our old one). Again, my home situation is better than it could be. I am not homeless. But not having a place to sit down and relax (or use the toilet, shower, etc) at the end of the night made me kind of batty and tearful.

So where are we now? Things are looking up. The new sewer line is in, the new house finally closed escrow, I’m finally learning my students’ names, and I’m checking things off each day that need to get done.  We should move next weekend. I’m not doing any of this with ease, and that’s making me frustrated, but we’re not going to hit ease until at least mid-October, I think. It was hard to say goodbye to our old house even though we know we’re going somewhere that we really like. Not having that place to move into directly from our old house meant the kids were emotional, too. But we are all here together and that’s what’s making it bearable. I’ve never been so glad for my own bed, my three other Partingtons, or my pets. Here are a few pictures from the last few weeks. Mostly things that I wanted to remember from the old house, but a few happy moments when we caught a break.Untitled

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Hopefully we continue on an upward trend.

It’s time.

house2Remember that one time when I complained about being bored all summer, and then in the span of a week everything happened?

I’ve been sleeping and binge-watching my way through my break from school, trying to wait it out for August 4, the date on which I am cleared to act like a normal human who does normal human activities again. I’m so close! (And I only get 6 days of glorious full-fledged personhood before I have to go back to work, but so what. I’ve made my peace.) While I was waiting and lamenting how much this summer vacation really blows, we decided to change everything.

We went to an open house because we were bored. And then we went to another one and then we made an appointment to see another house and then we were like well, we’re this far into it and we made an appointment to see one more, and it’s the exact thing we want. And I told Eric we should just go ahead and fill out the loan paperwork so we can see where we stand. And where we stand is actually okay. So as of Wednesday night, we are selling our house.

We bought our current home when Addie was one and a half. The market was good enough that we could sell our starter duplex and move into something bigger–but even then, the something bigger was only going to be for about five years. We knew we wanted more kids, we knew those kids would someday be kind of tall, and we knew our three bedroom wasn’t going to be comfortable for too long. At the time, Eric was finishing college. As he graduated and moved on to law school, we thought for sure we’d be out of this house in no time. Heh.

Then, the market took a dump. Like so many people, we were upside down in our house. Though we tried to refinance under the many versions of HARP, we never quite qualified. And we couldn’t bring ourselves to do anything risky. So even though we’d periodically daydream about something larger (or an office for me!), we always found ourselves gritting our teeth and paying our mortgage, hoping that this wouldn’t be the house we’d have to retire in.

Luckily, in addition to being a smartypants lawyer, Eric is amazingly handy. He built a patio cover that gave us extra space. He upgraded pretty much every surface in our home and wired the entire thing for sound and internet. When we bought this place, it was all original and it was a mess. Now it’s a pretty sweet place to live. The one thing we couldn’t do was make the actual house bigger.

So this week we’re moving forward–doing what we hoped we could do about 6 years ago. It’s scary but it’s wonderful and I am basically a nervous wreck. The idea of trying to sell/buy/move while teaching and reviewing and parenting and trying to keep my shit together seems kind of insane. But it feels like it’s time.

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Now all my ads are for comfy shoes.

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The other night Eric and I went out for crab. I tequila-ed myself up a little and ended up posting some crazy (for me) questions on Facebook like hey you guys should I get bangs? and hey, I am all about that comfy shoe work life, should I buy some clogs? I’ll just let that sink in for a minute: when I get get my buzz on I suddenly have the courage to ask my peeps about my top secret heart-yearnings for a new hairstyle and supportive footwear.

It’s kinda hard bein’ Snoop* D-oh-double-G.

Anyway. I have two weeks left of summer. I am trying hard not to spend them only eating Red Vines and watching The West Wing. But my annoyance with the terrible, no good, very bad dialogue on True Detective this season and the fact that there were only two seasons of creepy/wonderful show The Fall on Netflix (which we gulped down in three days) is making me crave some good ol’ fashioned (if drug-fueled) Aaron Sorkin West Wing walk-and-talk writing. I don’t even care that The West Wing seems in hindsight to present an idealized notion of America, a Bizzaro World to counter our worst summer of news in forever. Nope, I don’t care because it’s my escape. There’s a drought in California and all the plants are dead and about to burn up and everyone is cranky and it’s making me hate everything. The West Wing feels like happy. It can’t be tough feelings around the clock.

I am reading still, a lot. I am trying not to write only about reading, though, since it seems like that’s turned into most of my whole deal. I will briefly mention that I started War and Peace and I am reading it with a pen in my hand to make my brain pay attention, and I am only reading about 20 pages at a time so I don’t get sick of it. It is all kinds of wonderful. It begins in 1805, when Napoleon was stomping around Europe but hadn’t yet decided to march into Russia (which we know ended really great for him). I should not be surprised, but Tolstoy’s writing is just delicious. I love it, and I love that I’m not reading it for anything. Just for me. Bonus points for surrounding myself with a cadre of patient and generous history teacher friends. I called Kitty the other night to ask something about upper-class Russian perceptions of Napoleon in the years before he invaded, and that’s not really something odd for me to do in our relationship.

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The kids are great and about to start 5th (Henry) and 8th (Addie) grades. The other day I stumbled on some pictures from when Addie was about to start 5th, and the moment was so vivid in my mind, it felt like it just happened. It’s true what they say: the days are long but the years are short. The start of school feels a little less scary for our whole family than it did last year–I’m glad Miss Roo will be in the same place and I’m glad she never has to do 7th grade again. Henry is fine and will continue to be fine; he has confidence in spades. For him, now is about figuring out when it’s okay to be funny and when he maybe needs to cool it a little. But this feels like it will be a year of just doing what we know, which sounds, frankly, fantastic. Though I’m not looking forward to living by a bell schedule again in two weeks at work (it’s been so nice to use the restroom whenever I want!), this year will be easier for us as a family because we all know what to expect.

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Days that count

UntitledI’ve been a real peach this summer. A cranky brat.  This, as most of my peevish moods, came out of a dumb assumption. For sure my hysterectomy was only going to put me down for a few weeks, right? That’s what I thought. Then everything would be normal summer awesomeness: bike rides, daily swims, short trips around the state.

Nope.

I have spent most of this summer building a wall of books around myself–I’ve read 14 books in six weeks–and reading so voraciously that something feels wrong about it. Reading has been a way to fill my time and avoid thinking too much about all the adventures I’m not having. Last year’s dizzy summer of travel is still fresh in my mind, while this summer I have done a whole lot of zero, and I’ve been angry. A pouty, unreasonable, frustrated anger. Let’s call this a tantrum.

Poor me. I know. This is nothing. It’s really nothing. But right now it’s my something.

Anyway, it’s getting better. I’ve had some days, in the past week or so, that count, and make me feel like I’m moving. Yeah, I’m thankful for all of my days and they’re a gift; the healing, boring days are just harder to appreciate. It’s a stagnant state of I’ll-be-happy-when, which is, frankly, shit. I don’t like waiting, and I don’t like it when I struggle to find joy in the moment.

In the past week I’ve had three really good days, three days that meant I could forget that waiting. First, a funeral for a friend’s mother. Not that funerals are any reason to celebrate, but it put things in perspective. It was sad, but it was so lovely. Such a positive remembrance of the way that one person affected so many people in her life and made each person who knew her feel special. That day was also filled with people I haven’t seen in a long time. It ended up being a reunion of sorts: the kind of day when you laugh and tell stories and don’t watch the clock.

Second: Tuesday I took a solo day trip to our family cabin. I dropped our kids off with their grandparents and drove another half hour to my happy place. I haven’t been there alone since I went to finish my thesis in 2013. I spent most of Tuesday staring at the water, reading, and dozing in my chair to the white noise of water on rocks. I feel whole there. If a place can be an antidepressant, this river is it.UntitledUntitled
Third: I had lunch today with some friends–all retired teachers from my school. It felt like being normal. It felt good to laugh. It felt like an actual reason to get out of the house, but not the kind of day that means being worked up. Today was ordinary, but joyful. And another reminder that the people in my life are so great. I also had a decision about work to make today, and the day ended with one of these glorious friends telling me that no matter what, everything is going to be okay.

It doesn’t get any better than that, if you’re wondering.

I’m beginning to feel like a person again, and less like a body whose sole purpose is to sit still and knit together. If I’m being honest, I’m still shaking my fist at the sky a little because I know I won’t feel 100% until the day I go back to work. This entire break will have been an exercise in patience. This was not a fun summer or even an interesting one. But tonight I’m thankful for a few days that really count.

Binge

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Do other people read because they’re lonely? They must. I wonder if there’s a point where this is not okay. If it can be too much, an excess, unhealthy. If books are a way to avoid the mess of human interaction. I’ve read 12 books in the 4 weeks since my surgery. 12 books is more than I read the entire year before I started my MFA. I attach myself to characters. Not mistaking them for real, but often allowing myself to like them more than people. In fact, I like them better because they’re not. They require only observation.

Reading as meditation: It’s tough to sit still. It’s tough to ignore the phone, the hope that someone is thinking of you. It’s tough not to check Facebook. (Facebook is good for making yourself feel busy, loved, important.) But it gets easier to read for long periods of time if you do it every day. My mornings alone on the couch in the dark with a book and a cup of coffee and a flannel quilt bring me peace. They make me feel comfort within my own frame. A churchly calm. An ease of breath that is too often a struggle to find.

Reading as chore: Tell me I have to read it and I will hate the text. Try to trick me into learning something—something prescribed, clever, something that’s about your box of crayons rather than me being able to feel the book in my own colors, the way I know sunshine, or sadness, or the taste of homemade jam—and I will hate you.

Reading as rebellion: I can read anything I want. I say what it means. My authority comes only from my having read, my perspective is only as relevant as my own voice. (Ridiculous, meaningless, intoxicating and terrifying power, our voices.)

Reading as Invisibility Cloak: Don’t bother me, I’m reading.

Reading as shared suffering: File under: College Prep English Anthology, 11th grade (Colonial American Stories That Teenagers Will Not Enjoy). See also: Textbooks, Teacher Preparation Programs.

Is there a way to abuse books? To use books as a crutch? I’ve gotten so good at inserting them into the pauses between activities in my life that I find it difficult right now to be alone with this much time. Difficult to not read. To stop the frenetic tumble of words. I find it challenging to sit still, to heal after my surgery. I am lonely, but I don’t want to reach out. So I read and read and read, and in this way, am I’m more than alone, choosing characters over even my own company? I’m gulping down other people’s words, filling myself with things I can’t possibly digest.

Reading as a way to document experience: The books I remember best are the ones I can place in space and time. I listened to A Tale for the Time Being on the train in France. I read The Grapes of Wrath by the pool in Rancho Mirage. I read Middlesex at my parents’ while the kids were swimming. I read Gone with the Wind in the window of a hotel café next door to a teachers’ conference I was enrolled in, but ditching. I read John Adams in the car, at the public pool. Dichotomy of content and place make the reading even better.

Reading as physical act of love: The comfortable space between you and your spouse as you sit near each other, lost in stories.

Reading as impossible dream: The more you read, the more there is that you haven’t read.

The mannerisms of my reading are ridiculous, even when I read for fun. I’ve stopped pretending I want to read like normal people; I indulge my weirdness. I fold down the corner of every 50th page before I start. One hour of reading, each, a way to know how much is left. I read with my pen in my right hand, and I chew on the cap or scrape it gently against my lips. I read with discipline that’s almost militaristic, each hour allotted by to the teal blocks of time on my calendar, but this structure allows to indulge myself. My process of understanding what a book means is very woo-woo, very feely. As I’m reading I’m often more aware of the thing of the book than the detail. Embarrassingly so. I will forget dates. I will forget names—I often have to underline these for myself several times until they stick, check them three times before I submit a review—but the thing of the story comes to me like the steady time signature underneath the music. (Alternately, this is sometimes the cacophony of a discordant narrative.) The thing is like a waking dream, an exchange between me the person who wrote it. And maybe that’s just crap I tell myself, and maybe the thing has nothing to do with the thing they wrote. But I don’t question it. I just let it be, let it be something I feel. And then I type the quotes and then I really know. And I write it, or I try to get as close as possible. That thing.

Reading as a way to spy: How many times have I tried to see into the people I admire by trying to absorb their words? Both those they put down and those they pick up: equally enlightening.

Reading as marathon: A little a day actually makes significant progress. I am always shocked and pleased to find myself at the end.

Reading as sleep aid: When I read at night, I get sleepy in the background. I can’t help it. I’m too much in the story and my body quits. Every time. I should read more at night since I’m a terrible sleeper. I should let it happen. But I resist it, almost because I know it works so well.

Reading as currency, status, course of study: Resume.

The more I read, the less I feel purpose in my teaching job. Or more accurately, the less I believe in how it’s been defined in practice. The more I read, the less I think you can make someone read or deceive them into caring about a book or writing down what it means in a way that fits into a box. What I like, I like. What I don’t like, nobody can change. In fact, searching out more of what I like and defining what I don’t has made every book I read more pleasurable. Even the ones I hate. But we (English teachers, high school, mostly) don’t generally allow kids to hate the thing they read, or we haven’t given them the tools to hate a book and still read it. To hate it and to know why. So many people in my profession are afraid of what will happen if we let kids admit that a book for the class is boring. It goes against everything we need to tell ourselves.

I’m not sure how long I will keep up my reading sprint this summer. Maybe this is some kind of training I need so I can come out on the other side with a skill, a realization. Maybe it’s just filler, the carrot onstage in Waiting for Godot. But it’s eating at me.

Two Weeks Later

Two weeks ago I had my uterus removed. LAVH, which means I had small incisions by my hips and navel, the doctor filled my belly with gas and poked around with tubey cameras to make incisions, then removed my uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix through an incision in the birth canal.

At least, that’s about as much of it as I can stand to Google. It grosses me out to think about the last part, and while I’m all for knowing what’s happening to my body, I’ve been unable to calm the queasiness that comes every time I read the details of this operation. Since I had both my kids via c section, the idea of delivering my uterus strikes me as ironic. Or odd, at least.

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What I’m not feeling right now is any kind of sadness about my uterus being gone. I’d read a lot about women who didn’t feel as feminine because they lost that part of themselves. I didn’t know if I’d feel that after it was gone. Not so far. But I never liked my uterus. It’s been a shitty relationship for 23 years, and even when it gave me those two amazing children, it was still a huge, uncomfortable and awkward pain. I never had easy periods or pregnancies, so I can’t say I feel a sense of loss about that part of my body. I am sure when I’m not having to miss work or spend days in bed every month I’ll be even more glad. Adios.

I do feel a loss of possibility, even though the rational part of me knows that the possibility was already gone, since several years ago Eric and I decided we were done having kids. We figured out that we didn’t need new babies, just missed was our two as little ones. No amount of hanging on, martyring myself with a busted, miserable uterus was going to make that possible. Right now the worries I have about the space where my uterus was are about complications in the future. In a fit of pain and sleeplessness the other night, I started Googling what can go wrong after a hysterectomy, and that was a bad, bad idea. It will take a while for me to forget some of those words.

If I’m honest, my overwhelming feeling right now is fear of aging. Fear of living in a body that’s declining in performance rather than one that bursts with possibility. My hysterectomy underscored my mortality. And while I don’t feel old, or bad, or sad, I know I’m constantly checking my watch at the party. This is fun, but I know someday it will end. Have you read Sharon Olds’ poem, “35/10”? At our house it’s 36/12, but the sentiment is the same. Time is passing, man.

So. Recovery. It’s going, but it’s going so much slower than I had hoped. So here are some details (none of them more disgusting than anything you’ve already read, if you’re still with me). AKA: What I wish someone had told me about LAVH.

I was in and out of the hospital in one day–checked in at about 6:30 and home before 3:00. My doctor told me the requirement to leave and go home sans catheter was that I had to pee on my own, so I spent one very drowsy and determined half hour in the bathroom immediately after surgery. Once I proved myself, I was released and I was home in my bed. Not to be outdone, Henry came up with a sudden case of the stomach flu at school that day, so I didn’t see the kids a lot until we were sure I wouldn’t catch whatever thing he had.

One of the doctors told me I’d be nauseous when I got home, and they gave me multiple meds to combat it. What I didn’t do was read the side effects of the pain or nausea pills they gave me. If I would have, I would have known that they caused blurry vision and dizziness. Maybe I wouldn’t have fallen down on my way back to bed from the bathroom that night, hitting my head on the door frame and cutting my cheek on the dresser. Two days later I also discovered that the splitting headache I had was from the same medicine. I felt a lot better once I was off that and the Norco.

The worst pain for the first five days–and it was awful–was from the gas they used to inflate my abdomen so they could see with the cameras. I know, you’re like haha gas. Not that kind of gas, because that kind of gas lives in your digestive tract and no matter how bad it is on a scale of one to fire sauce burrito, you know it’s going to eventually exit. Not this gas. This gas is just in the space outside your organs, and it can’t leave. Every time you move, it makes you want to die. Stabbing, shooting pain in your shoulders. Roiling bubbles across your guts. Pressure and discomfort like you wouldn’t believe. My doctor told me my shoulders would hurt (“don’t call us if you have shoulder pain,” she said), but this was so bad and so painful that I am still having trouble finding the words to describe it. In the first week my incision felt fine and I wasn’t really moving around so gravity had yet to have her way with me, but the gas? GOD DAMN, YOU GUYS. I’m just keeping it real. I wished I could cut a hole in my side to let it out.

It took me four days to leave my bed and get to my couch. It took me a week and a half to feel strong enough to walk past my mailbox. I just started driving again yesterday. I feel good and stronger every day, but I feel sore and tired. Gravity doesn’t help, especially the area surrounding the internal incisions. My ex-cervix. The longer I stand, the more unbearable that feels, but the pain seems to migrate to different areas of my stomach, depending on the day. My ab muscles feel weak and I am sure this contributes to not feeling like I can stand up for a long period of time. I miss being strong, feeling like my body can move with a semblance of agility and fortitude. I feel stupid fragile.

Before the surgery I told myself this would be no big deal because I’d had two caesarians and I knew what that was and that I could do that, not sleep, feed a baby and still manage to move around. I have not been handling this as well as the caesarians, and either this means a) I am a weak soul, a shivering baby bird of a person, or b) it’s just different. I am trying to convince myself that it’s b. Am I glad I did it? Not today. Today I feel pissed off that I’m wasting my summer, and angry that I can’t really leave the house for any period of time that amounts to anything. It’s been hard to ask for what I need constantly, and hard to rely on other people for so long. I think I’ll eventually be glad I did this, but I’m not there yet.

I have eaten the full gamut of Things Heather Loves, from peanut butter M&Ms to Cheetos to ICEEs to gummy bears and two kinds of Oreos. I am glad I lost 18 pounds before surgery, because post-op, I wanted comfort foods, and my comfort foods skew decidedly lowbrow and high sugar. Eric has been so good to me, taking care of every single thing I needed. My friend Kitty stopped by with something for me every day, sat with me and talked so I’d feel like a real person. My sister scooped my kids up and delivered dinners without making me ask for anything at all. My parents, my grandparents, everyone has sent food and love and hugs. My room looked like a florist’s shop. It is good to be loved and cared for. It’s only hard to be a patient patient.

Henry said I’m different since my surgery. When I asked him how, he said “well, when the doctors removed the part of your body where a baby grows, I think they also took out the part of you that makes you embarrassed to talk about poop.”

So there you go, Internet.

Here are some pictures of what I’ve been up to. Spoiler alert: not much.

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Summer Reading List

I love summer reading. Most books are better read outdoors–a phenomenon I became aware of during my preteen cat mystery obsession. Sacramento summers provide lots of opportunities for sweaty outdoor reading while guzzling ice water.

Since high school I’ve been using summer to get ahead on my work. There never seemed to be enough time to read everything during the school year, so summer became about preparation. Getting things read so they were off my plate. This didn’t change when I started teaching, and grad school necessitated that I read ahead so I could meet all my deadlines. But the other side of summer reading is freedom. When you decide at age 13 that you’re going to teach English (then write stories, then review them), your normal life is going to mostly be about assigned reading. So many of my summers were the only time to read what I wanted to read. As an adult, I try to make my summer reading list a mix–getting ahead and indulging in something fun. This year is no exception.

What’s on my summer reading list this year? Books of all different types, it turns out. And–as always–the hope that I’ll get through one monster, one Big eFfing Book. The BFB.

Car Buddies

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I happily let Colin Firth read this story to me as I ran errands in my car: Graham Greene’s moody and obsessive 1951 novel, The End of the Affair. I’m haunted by this book in a really good way. Something about Firth’s accent and the structure of the story (maybe the cold way these lovers regard each other?): it begins at the end of a relationship, and it unwinds slowly. I couldn’t get enough. This may be unrelated, but Mr. Firth is invited to drive around with me and tell me any stories he’d like.

Learning Things

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The opportunity to interview David McCullough about his book, The Wright Brothers, for Goodreads was a huge surprise. And he was delightful–speaking with him ranks as one of my favorite experiences, ever. It also earned me more cred with my best friend, father, and grandfather than I could’ve ever hoped for. But even though I was familiar with Mr. McCullough’s work and a huge fan of the HBO series based on his biography of Adams, I hadn’t read more than fragments of his other books. So lately I’ve fallen into a nice rabbit hole of American history. His style is so conversational and easy, and it’s lovely to read to learn about something. I’m not sure if that makes sense? I hope everything I read makes me a little smarter, but usually I’m reading for style and literary content. I’m usually learning about feelings. It’s nice to read for information. It feels like it uses a different part of my brain. I love history, and I’ve loved every page of his work I’ve read.

The Wright Brothers is exactly that, the story of the two Ohio gentlemen that changed the world. The Greater Journey is about Americans in the mid-1800s who went to Paris to learn everything they could; they wanted to go and study so they could bring back art, medicine, and culture. Since I was in Paris almost a year ago, this was really fun–I could picture exactly what parts of the city he was writing about, and I had no idea about most of the history in the book. John Adams was fascinating, and besides giving me even more respect for the relationship President Adams had with his wife, Abigail, it was such an interesting look into the early American experience. It gives me hope that we were so messed up then and we still managed to make it work.

I’m hoping to dive into 1776 next.

Core Work

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Lately I am acutely aware of the relationship of all stories. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m writing this series for Ploughshares, so I’m searching out connections, but I have felt for the last 6 months or so like I’m building a lifetime independent study course. I read things for fun, but even the things I read for fun end up circling back to things I’ve studied. Eventually it’s all material for the same project. This is kind of exciting, if you think about it–I just read this article about biliotherapy and how sometimes books are prescribed to people for various conditions. But I’m thinking of this in a looser sense–I’m building the kind of person I want to be, and accessing the information I want to know. It’s all working together.

So. In that vein, I read Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation. Mostly, I was just curious, since the Arab’s perspective in Camus’ The Stranger is certainly something I’d discussed with my AP students. Camus was huge for me in the years I taught AP English. I talked to Literary Disco about the book just last year. But I’m curious about anything that examines a story from a different side. I read it just for fun, but by the time I finished the (short) novel, I had pitched it as a post. I had too much to say to keep it to myself. So that’s coming soon.

My Brilliant Friends

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Do you ever read books just so you can fit in with your peer group? That’s what happens when you go to grad school. If someone reads a great book, you read it too, so you don’t feel like the dumb one the next time you’re all standing around chugging martinis. Well, you still might, but at least you’ve read all the cool things. You can nod with authority.

My friend group has such good literary taste and reads so voraciously that I can barely keep up. But I finally had time to read Emily St. John Mandel’s excellent post-apocalyptic novel, Station Eleventhe other day, and it did not disappoint. And if you like Shakespeare (me!) and Star Trek: Voyager  (me!) there’s a few details that might make your day. My friends, as usual, were right. Station Eleven is thoughtful and well-written. Up next in Books My Friends Said Were Decent is the first in the Neapolitan novels series, My Brilliant Friend. And yes, I do have to look up how to spell Neapolitan. Every time.

Real Work

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I had pitches accepted to review both Phoef Sutton’s Crush and Mia Couto’s Confession of the Lioness in translation. Neither one of them seems like it’s really going to be work to read. Sometimes I can’t believe that reading books is my job.

BFB

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Every summer I read something enormous, something that I think is too challenging for me and something that I want to read just so I’ve read it. Like running a marathon. Summer offers the opportunity to get through something that will take me a looooong time. Something I need to walk through carefully. Slowly. Methodically.

I haven’t decided yet what the BFB will be this year, but right now the two front-runners are Infinite Jest and War and Peace. Really.

Aim high, kids.

June One.

Hello, June. Hello, real life.

I wish I had better reasons for not writing anything lately. Not just here, but writing anything other than book reviews. But I have no reasons because I don’t even have the head space to think of reasons.

When I look back at 2015 and try to remember what it was about, I am sure that all I will remember about this time is that I sat in my car. I sat in my car or I drove a child somewhere in my car, and I tried to hold on to a thought for longer than five minutes. In 2015, I felt like I might never hold on to a thought for more than five minutes, ergo, I might never be able to write any fiction again. Or feign to work at writing any good fiction. (Because being a writer is mostly about looking off into space and thinking the same thought for a really long time, right?) In 2015, I had so many ideas, and they were all gone by the time I pulled into my driveway.

Yes, it’s fun, seeing each of my kids find a way through the world, and junior high (for the big one) has been something so alien to our entire family that it took all our combined willpower to get her through the first year. But while I’ve been able to dedicate myself to a strict schedule of waking up early so I can write my book reviews and not feel panicky about that (mostly), I am unable to dedicate myself to a strict schedule of creativity. Because creativity needs some freaking space, and my brain is mostly full of things like: 7:05, leave the house. 7:12, drop Henry at Grandma’s. 7:22, say goodbye to Addie before PE. 7:50, run to the restroom before class starts. 9:55 sneak out of class during the last five minutes so you can make it to the restroom again before all the kids are in the hall. 11:15, lock classroom door so you can eat without talking to 9th graders. 1:05, run to restroom again before the next class starts pounding on the door. 2:20 try to get to Henry before he’s the last lonely kid in the parking lot. Etcetera. And there’s a lot of me having to say “really?!?” to kids and shooting mean looks around.

This, too: I’ve been trying to lose weight since January. Succeeding, slowly. But I will maintain until I die that some part of my creativity comes from consuming doughnuts and ICEEs and pretzels and red licorice, and that carby/fun part of me is being brutally repressed for a little while longer.

Anyway. I’m home. It’s quiet, and I just finished the last review I need to write for three weeks. I’m having some minor surgery next week, so the break in work isn’t really a break, but not reading for work and not writing for work and not going to work–that feels a little bit like a guilty thing I’m doing just for myself. I’ll take it. I don’t really know what to expect this summer. We’ve purposely kept our schedule open since I don’t know how I’ll handle the surgery. Before you ask: It’s a hysterectomy. Not a secret, not major, and not life-threatening, just something I need to do so I can stop being in agony every month. I’m a little sad to say goodbye to some part of my body that gave me these awesome kids. And I’m a little sad that I’m not packing for some European adventure like I was last summer. But in addition to riding in my car, 2015 just needs to be about evicting my bum uterus. As soon as I do that I can get back on a plane.

For now I am just happy to be home with my (almost) eighth grader. Happy that all of the problems of the school year will fade over the next few weeks. I’m hopeful I find space enough to keep my thoughts, to turn them over and let them become something more than a passing idea.

We’ll see. If not, at least I get to lay by the pool and eat fresh tomatoes.

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