Monday, December 31, 2012

Stroppy New Year

I am more than a little affronted by the passage of time.  It seems so personal, you know?  A giant f*ck you, you're one year closer to death and so is everyone you love from the universe.

Or maybe that's  narcissism speaking -according to an article I scanned this morning over breakfast, the only thing keeping pace with the growth of narcissism in our society is the obesity epidemic. (Possible NY Resolution: stop reading).

 So basically it's a giant, f*ck you, you're one year closer to death and so is everyone you love and also you are all fat.

Well played, universe, well played.

When presented with a universe-style fait accompli  -or a person who is much, much better than you at pool- you have two choices.  You can succumb, a gentlewoman to the end, dabbing on a chalk-colored smile as you dribble your balls, one by one, into the pockets (wait, who's winning here?  Possible NY resolution: figure out what the heck is going on in pool). 

Or, you can unclench your jaw, unloose a tigery howl, and slam that eight ball where the sun don't shine. (Possible NY resolution: do not assemble metaphors without instructions.  Or Ikea furniture.  Gingerbread houses also.)

For whatever reason (genetics, narcissism, crotchetiness, bad at pool), I prefer the contrarian approach.  Dylan Thomas, Walter Matthau, Oscar the Grouch: these are people, my partners in perversity, and we'll be damned if we go gently into the good night or 2013 or Walmart.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light!  (Possible NY resolution: order lightbulbs online.)

In recent years, I've tried to surrender gracefully.  But 2012 is almost gone, and I'm not going to take it anymore, time, you hear me? 

Or, of course I am going to take it, but I'm not going to like it! 

Take that, universe!  And by "that" I mean my pool cue.  It's not like I knew what to do with it.

Just don't take anything more.  Not yet.  Please.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book it 2012!

Cold, but not as cold as you think it should be: the definition of a Southern winter.  I'm running through mine, guzzling its exhaust, gunning it dry.  No: it's already dry:  High of fifty degrees, brown ground, no snow.

In this middling purgatory of a season, a young girl's  human's thoughts turn to books!  Books will get you out of almost anything, and they'll do it with admirable extremes of temperature! Bring on the sere sentences, the heated dialogue, the boiling plot!

So here, without further ado, my least temperate, most absorbing reads of 2012!  Rescue me from Winter Lite and reply with your own!

1)Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

I'm not done with this one so I probably shouldn't even list it, but OH HECK WHY NOT IT'S SO GOOD!  Mantel writes bleak, yet oblique prose -a handy trick- and there's nothing colder than the machinations of the Tudor court!  Mantel introduces us to Thomas Cromwell, a man for all seasons- oh, no, wait, that's Thomas More, who is depicted as a slavering self-scourger.  Everyone is named Thomas, or Anne.  Mix in hair shirts, a doomed lutenist, bastard sons, whispering women, London Rain, Oxford, the wool trade, and buns.  Oh, the humanity!

2) Freedom, Johnathan Franzen

I'd avoided Jonathan Franzen diligently for years, on the principle that he is an unmitigated whiner, and I had my quota of those in college  Reading Freedom was a lesson in humility -for me, not for Franzen, who can write the pants off anything.  And does.  Lots of pantsless Minnesotans in this one, folks!  Ignore the worst book title this side of "Fifty Ways to Leave your Llama-" I found Freedom so absorbing I went on to chug The Corrections, which is saying something.

3) Light in August, William Faulker

This was my first Faulkner.  Heretofore, I'd been of the opinion that classics were designated as such for their ability to render high school students comatose.  But Faulkner is a fabulous writer, sere and lush and bitter.

4) Wild, Cheryl Strayed

Wild is a novel about a battered wild child rediscovering her center via long-distance hiking. I found the premise, the press, and the authorial voice almost indescribably annoying, but you know what?  I finished it in forty-eight hours.  I spent forty-four of those hours wanting to brain Ms. Strayed, but do we not, after all, come to books in the spirit of self-expansion?  We do, and we should, and remind me never to hike that far.

5) Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

I read a whole, whole lot of genre fiction, most of which goes in one lobe of the brain and out the other.  Of all the mysteries, I read this year, this one stuck.  It's a suspense novel, though not a particularly clever one: the twist swims into vision several miles out.  But it's also a meticulous catalog of the ways in which we hurt and twist and mar those closest to us, and in this capacity, Gone Girl is stupefyingly eerie: an outline chalked around the sprawled body of reality.  My most uncomfortable -and fastest- read of the year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Am Here

Love, IN

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Driving in Russia

I am the kind of person who buys a new computer and then lets it sit in the box.

This became clear to me after I bought a new computer and, yes, let it sit in the box.  A box which is  currently skulking in bag under my bed, actively shaming me as I type this blog entry on the computer I'd decided was too old and sickly to be viable.

It's something to do with the difficulty of the changeover.  The transferring of the data, plus the installing of the new programs and the rediscovering of the passwords my browser previously took care of and the wiping of the old hard drive and the disposal of the old machine-

How much easier, to fire up the ancient, ailing standby?

The fact that I am this kind of person- an irrational, box-sitting crazy person- came as a surprise to me.  After all, I'm nothing if not dutiful: an everyday exerciser, a caller-on-your-birthday.  

But perhaps the most disconcerting thing about being human is our scope for failing to understand, at a basic level, who the hell we are.

To which point I can only add that, yes, I wasted thirteen minutes watching this.  Woah.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

The final couplet of our national anthem never made good sense to me, growing up.   Land of the free?  I wasn't free. There were dance classes, music lessons, chores, college applications, jobs, outings, taxes. And, waiting to be stuffed into those intermittent cavities between duties, books.  

Home of the brave?  My mother described me, politely, as "timid."  I made the Cowardly Lion look like a badass.

Then I saw my father dive headfirst into the garbage after a basketball game.  At the arena, the trash cans were heavy, clangorous affairs, sounding against your head as you burrowed for what was, according to my dad, a big-time plastic cup bonanza.

The theory went like this: If you bought a drink at the game, which we never in our wildest, most profligate dreams, would think of doing, the concensioneers handed to you in a 16 oz plastic cup.   And at the end of the night, if you were the kind of person who spent $3.50 on lukewarm pepsicola, well, you just might be the kind of person who threw away a perfectly good plastic cup.

He was right.  There were lots of cups.  For free!  All you needed was an iron stomach and no shame.

It's powerful, the lure of the free.  It's how I got at least half of my furniture, a shameful percentage of my shoes, and, um, certain of my drinkware.  It's why I finally picked up Cheryl Strayed's Wild, an over-marketed, over-Oprahed, argually overpriced retelling of the author's summer-long schlep up the Pacific Crest Trail.

But hey!  Free!  On Overdrive, direct to my Kindle! Thanks, libraries!

In Wild, Strayed chronicles her spiral away from, and back towards, mental health, as enabled by a whole lot of walking.  I don't usually go in for nonfiction, but did I mention this was free?  Plus books are supposed to muscle us into worlds beyond our ken, and if there was one thing I'd never contemplated, it was walking until my toenails fell off.

I started.  Then, only a couple of pages in, I stopped.   Strayed had dropped a reference to the fact that she'd been a cheerleader.  She'd been a homecoming queen.  It was so easy, she reported, of picking up man after man. 

All of this, the beauty and the power and the ease, was the furthest thing from my experience.  Cheryl had trouble not sleeping with the many men she encountered.  I had trouble getting a date.  She struggled to conceal her beauty of the trail.  I struggled to stop longing to be -under the male gaze- visible. 

Clearly, the author was not my kind of woman. 

I set the book aside.  I tried out some lines  Easy come, easy go, I told Wild.   It's not you, it's me.  You're just not my kind of book. 

But Strayed kept slogging forward under the weight of her pack, and, at last, so did I.  She'd wanted to hike the PCT, and she'd had to live with the consequences.  I'd wanted a window into a life that wasn't, and could never be, my own, and, hell, I'd gotten it. Neither of us had any right to complain.

It's a very human thing, to search out ourselves in one another. It's lonely on the trail and it's lonely off it, and if some part of us comes to every book hoping -hunting- for the story of ourselves- well, it's not the worst thing in the world.

But it's not the bravest, and it doesn't allow us, as every book should, to slip, for an hour or two, our reins.  I shouldn't have stopped.  But at least I'm on my way.