I want to live here; I can't. I bore myself.
Sunday, June 20, 2021
1) COVID makes weddings even more awkward.
2) My brother is an adult. I'm not quite sure I can get my brain around that. And his wife is an adult, too. I envy them their earnestness, and their prowess at home maintenance.
3) I have now brought a potty to a wedding. Bucket list? Literally?
4) No one can hear your heartfelt sentiments unless you project.
5) Swings are fun for kids. A lot of fun. Like, I wish something were that fun for me.
6) There's only so much time you can spend cheerfully outdoors in the middle of summer.
7) Wedding cake is never as good as it should be.
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
I am here to report that the slightly nicer cookie sheets are, in fact, slightly nicer. One of the things have been slowly learning in adulthood is that you don't always have to stop at what sort of works. I mean, sometimes you know, but it doesn't have to be your default. It is possible, and permissible, to shoot for something more than minimal function.
This is a tough one for me. My parents' bookshelves were literally made of bricks and two-by-fours well into their forties. For a long time, their mattress was on the floor. They bought used cars, always.
If it functioned, it would do. Some lessons begin so early, and are so implicit, that you don't even realize you're learning them.
They are thicker, the slightly nicer cookie sheets. They bake a bit more evenly. There's no rust.
Monday, June 7, 2021
It's already past the halfway mark of 2021 and I haven't written a word. I believe this to be a symptom of how words are beginning to slink away from me. Which is sad, but the kind of sad for which there is no recourse. Stage Four sad, metastasized.
Meanwhile I am balanced on the knife's edge of happy.
By which I mean, I have much to be grateful for, and am able to experience that gratitude without flinching My work is engaging, and I am very good at it. I control my own schedule. My kids are ferociously alive. I bought the slightly nicer cookie sheets.
But there is always a drop, and it is always only a few atoms away. We are none of us allotted unalloyed joy.
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
“And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's Aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said, "Would you like anything to read?”
― Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
As Dylan Thomas's incisive Miss Prothero understands, the thing to do, in the face of disaster, is read.
And so I did. As the global pandemic pricked, then burst, such former quotidian pleasures as conversation, embracing loved ones, Zumba, and the communal coffee pot, I buried my nose in one book after another, leapfrogging my reading totals from previous years.
As a result, I read a lot of really excellent books- which made winnowing this year's list unusually harrowing. I also fell into the clutches of some very, very bad books, from which I feel it is incumbent upon me, as someone who is otherwise fairly useless in a global pandemic, to save you.
So here goes!
2020 HALL OF SHAME:
Where the Crawdads Sing: Your grandmother made a quilt from discarded Justin Bieber posters, and then she put it out in the rain until it began to mildew, and now you have to eat the whole thing.
In Five Years: One long series of product placements! Plus cancer!
The Rent Collectors: White, male, Utah-based author pens the heartwarming story of a young Cambodian mother who transcends her life of grinding poverty thanks to the gift of literacy. (No need for snark here; the truth is enough.)
2020 HALL OF FAME:
Best Book For Wringing You Out Like A Wet Washcloth: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Lori Gottlieb
Do you know how many tears fit inside your body? Prepare to find out! Lori Gottleib's Maybe You Should Talk To Someone sounds boring (a therapist talking about therapy....I'll just lie down for a minute on this couch, shall I?). But it is utterly engrossing, a searing meditation on what it means to be alive.
Best Book About Reincarnation: Life after Life, Kate Atkinson
Reincarnation is right up there with "...and it was all a dream" in the pantheon of Very Bad Literary Ideas. But, stupefyingly, Atkinson makes it work.
Best Book About Spontaneous Combustion: Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson.
This one stuck with me. Possibly because it is full of people catching on fire.
Best Book Set in Kamchatka: The Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips
Have you ever read a book set in Kamchatka? I had not. This series of interlinked short stories felt ever so slightly debut-y, but the writing was clear and elegant, the setting was fascinating, and the plot had wheels.
Just Really *xZjxg*Good: The Dutch House, Ann Patchett
Is Ann Patchett a genius? Does she have a cadre of sentient monkeys chained to typewriters in her attic? Who cares; you should read this. It's big, chewy, oddly old-fashioned novel, nominally about a house, but really constituting the compassionate, painstaking dissection of a family organism. It's fantastic.
Best Book For These Sad, Distracted Times: Olive Again, Elizabeth Strout
Strout writes (has always written) exquisitely, but exquisite writers are not so rare. What's more unusual is Strout's generosity: She's one of the few writers these days who accepts, and even rejoices, in the full human panoply. We are many things, we humans: petty and loving, cruel and ridiculous and kind, and in Strout's fiction those qualities are tightly and beautifully braided. In 2020, a time in which we are encouraged to doubt the humanity of those who think differently, to cut out "toxic" people and excommunicate those who misstep, Strout's message is redemptive. To paraphrase the very wise Bryan Stevenson, we are all more than the worst of ourselves.
2020 HALL OF OTHER THINGS I READ THAT WERE GOOD BUT THAT I AM TOO LAZY TO EXPLICATE:
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family; All Adults Here; No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us; Normal People; Redhead by the Side of the Road; Writers and Lovers; 28 Summers; Miracle Creek; Troubled Blood; The Vanishing Half; Peace Like a River; Red at the Bone; Play It As It Lays; The Last Flight; The Night Watchman; The Cracks In Our Armor
Monday, November 30, 2020
I have been very lucky, but I have wasted much of was given to me. I have squandered my yard. have made mistakes I regret, and regret, and regret. I hurt people; I have been hurt. I am loved insufficiently; I love insufficiently. All the usual human failings- we are nothing if not predictable.
I lack the energy, and courage, to muster a crisis, but midlife consumes me anyway. I am not sure what to make of where I am, but I am here.
Thursday, November 26, 2020
It's a weird one.
I woke up grateful, so it's only natural that it went downhill from there. My oldest is furious about something (anything?) and spent the better part of 1.5 hours screaming and crying, some of it whilst perambulating around the neighborhood so as to better maximize public humiliation. My youngest has decided not to nap. And my husband is the world's worst kitchen parter, nitpicking, complaining, asking passive-aggressive questions, and generally getting in the way, all while contributing nothing of actual utility (I've known this for a long time, and it is why we cook separately; unfortunately the kitchen doors do not lock).
Everyone is "napping" right now, which means that no one is sleeping, but we have all retreated to our separate corners. Everyone will probably be more civil when we come back together, plus by then it will be a couple of hours closer to bedtime.
But even in the midst of this domestic bliss, there is much to be grateful for. The obligatory: we are healthy, we are solvent, there is pie. And the bonuses: My daughter sings in her crib. My son loves to make his sister laugh. I am making a decent living at a vocation I believe in and enjoy. I grew up with love, and I am passing love on.
This particular COVID Thanksgiving, when I must keep my distance from everyone outside of my immediate family, I'm also finding myself reflecting on those moments in which people outside of my household -strangers, friends, and acquaintances- have given me something charged and precious, some vision or warning or advice that inflected my life, showed me how to be or what to do.
K, telling me her vision of me, blazing and brave. H picking me up in the rain. Professor B, taking me out to lunch and telling me I didn't want to be a musicologist (I didn't). N showing me how crouch calmly under the table when the SWAT team began to roll past the coffee shop. My student E gripping my hands the weekend I was waiting on my son's muscular dystrophy test, telling me things would be different, but OK. C, one of my first students at my very first workshop, who told me I was a wonderful teacher.
We change the direction of one another's lives glancingly, unconsciously. We hit and run, hustling past our impacts, never entirely perceiving what we are to one another. We are molecules, drifting and jostling; we are nothing much. We are everything.